November 28, 2006
Interesting Case on Computers & "Possession" of files
The Ninth Circuit in this case had to determine whether a files that were located in "Active Temporary Internet Files" and the "Deleted Temporary Internet Files" areas of the hardrive of his computer were "possessed" for purposes of the PROTECT act. The court's reasoning is interesting:
According to the evidence before the district court, when a person accesses a web page, his web browser will automatically download that page into his Active Temporary Internet Files, so that when the site is revisited the information will come up much more quickly than it would have if it had not been stored on the computer’s own hard drive. When the Active Temporary Internet Files get too full, they spill excess saved information into the Deleted Temporary Internet Files. All of this goes on without any action (or even knowledge) of the computer user. A sophisticated user might know all of that, and might even access the files. But, “most sophisticated —or unsophisticated users don’t even know they’re on their computer.”
Much of the above also appears in our discussion of this area in Romm, 455 F.3d at 997-1001. There we also pointed out that “the cache is a ‘system-protected’ area, which the
operating system tries to prevent users from accessing by displaying a warning that access involves an ‘unsafe’ system command.” Id. at 998. We also noted that a user, who knows what he is doing, can go forward and get access to the cache files anyway. Id. In the case at hand, there was no evidence that Kuchinski was sophisticated, that he tried to get access to the cache files, or that he even knew of the existence of the cache files.
There is no question that the child pornography images were found on the computer’s hard drive and that Kuchinski possessed the computer itself. Also, there is no doubt that he had accessed the web page that had those images somewhere upon it, whether he actually saw the images or not. What is in question is whether it makes a difference that, as far as this record shows, Kuchinski had no knowledge of the images that were simply in the cache files. It does.
So, we don't necessarily possess everything that we possess on our computers. I guess that's a good thing since, from what I can tell, there's a lot of stuff on there that I have no clue about.
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