Thursday, September 30, 2010

NACDL's 6th Annual Defending the White Collar Case Seminar – “iDefense: Strategic & Ethical Issues in the Digital Age,” Thursday, September 30, 2010

Guest Blogger: Debra A. Karlstein, Spears & Imes LLP (New York, NY)

Moderator: Gerald B. Lefcourt

Panelists: Elkan Abramowitz, Daniel K. GelbMark R. Hellerer and Eric V. Mazur

The panel was moderated by Gerald Lefcourt and included defense lawyers Elkan Abromowitz, Mark Hellerer, Daniel Gelb, and Eric Mazur, a forensic expert from Navigant Consulting.

Gerry introduced the panel, speaking about the sea change in the law and life arising out of the explosion of technological changes such as smart phones that have us carrying our personal information about all our contacts, our emails, a GPS device that allow others to know where we are at all times, our photos, and a history of our web browsing.

Elkan Abromowitz addressed three issues.  First, Elkan spoke about the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable searches of papers and effects in the modern age when people have all types of private information on their computers, desktops or blackberries.  The Ninth Circuit has held that law enforcement can look at information on a laptop at a border search – for any person entering or leaving the country–even in the absence of reasonable suspicion.  (By contrast, reasonable suspicion is still required for a personal search, even though most of us carry far more information on our laptops than on our physical bodies!).

Second, Elkan spoke about the Balco case, in which the Ninth Circuit restricted the ability of law enforcement to obtain subpoenas that would allow the government to obtain information on computers that go beyond what was actually sought.  En banc, the Ninth Circuit removed certain guidelines set forth in the original opinion, leaving some uncertainty about the proper breadth of a reasonable search in the context of a subpoena for computer records.

Third, Elkan spoke about the Quon case in the Supreme Court, which held that an employer can review emails sent on work computers and mobile devices issued by the employer–regardless of whether the employee has a reasonable expectation of privacy–as long as there is a non-investigatory workplace reason to do so.

Eric Mazur spoke about the exponential increase in the amount of data available and the ability of forensic experts to retrieve it.

Mark Hellerer also spoke about the increase in data and its impact on electronic discovery.  In civil cases, the Sedona Conference has met annually to try to develop guidelines and best practices.  In criminal cases, companies are faced with the daunting task of trying to respond to extremely broad subpoenas.  Mark noted that there are certain limits on the proper scope of a grand jury’s investigative powers, and courts have at times been willing to apply Rule 17(c)’s limitation to quash–or more likely modify–unreasonably overbroad and unduly burdensome subpoenas.

Daniel Gelb talked about the statutory and constitutional limits on the reach of law enforcement with respect to electronically stored information in GPS devices, social media websites, et cetera.  He noted that there is no reasonable expectation of privacy in comments posted on social media sites such as Facebook, even if directed only to a limited group of individuals such as “friends.”  In addition, the government can often circumvent the need to obtain a search warrant upon a showing of probable cause by issuing a subpoena to cell phone providers who now collect GPS tracking devices.

Finally, the panelists discussed a hypothetical (based on an actual case in Washington, DC) involving a law firm partner who was prosecuted for obstruction of justice, along with his registered domestic partner and roommate, in connection with a homicide.  Although the defendants were acquitted, the wife of the deceased brought a wrongful death lawsuit and has sought emails sent and received by the law firm partner on the firm’s computers.

(dak)

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