Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Source Code, RoundUp and the 4th Amendment

On February 24, 2011, a federal grand jury charged Jeremy Brashear a grand jury with “distributing, receiving, and possessing material constituting or containing child pornography, in violation of 18 U.S. Code § 2252A(a).”  U.S. v. Brashear, 2013 WL 6065326 (U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania 2012).  After being indicted, he filed various motions, including one to suppress certain evidence, which the District Court Judge denied.  U.S. v. Brashear, supra.

Most recently, and most relevant for the purposes of this blog post, Brashear had a subpoena duces tecum issued to obtain certain evidence he believed would be useful in his defense.  U.S. v. Brashear, supra. To understand why he got the subpoena, it is necessary to understand how the case arose:

In 2010, Trooper Matt Powell of the Pennsylvania State Police in Indiana, Pennsylvania, conducted an investigation of peer-to-peer file sharing programs that may have contained child pornography. . . . Peer-to-peer file sharing networks enable computer users to share digital files between different network users. . . .

Trooper Powell used a program called Roundup 1.4.1 (`RoundUp’) to search files available for sharing in the Gnutella peer-to-peer file sharing network. . . . RoundUp is a modified version of the file sharing software PHEX. . . . RoundUp utilizes a database of `hash values’ from files known to contain child pornography. . . .

This database enables law enforcement to identify files with hash values that match the hash values of known child pornography. . . . RoundUp only identifies computer files that are available for downloading from a folder shared with the Gnutella network. . . .

Trooper Powell alerted Corporal Thomas Trusal to his findings. . . . Accordingly, Corporal Trusal obtained a subpoena ordering Comcast to provide subscriber and billing information for this IP address. . . .Based upon an aggregate of investigative materials, including the identification of the registered account holder, Corporal Trusal secured a search warrant for 1651 Kaiser Avenue, South Williamsport, Pennsylvania, 17702. . . .

Brashear resided in a trailer on the property of the 1651 Kaiser Avenue residence. As a result of information obtained through the execution of the search warrant, Brashear was arrested. . . . Law enforcement eventually secured an additional search warrant for Brashear's trailer and laptop. . . . This search revealed child pornography. . . .

U.S. v. Brashear, supra.

That brings us to the motion at issue in this opinion:

On July 25, 2013, Brashear filed an ex parte motion . . . for the issuance and service of a subpoena to compel the Pennsylvania State Police (`PSP’) to provide the source code for RoundUp. Defense counsel explained that he already obtained the PHEX source code and sought access to the RoundUp source code to compare the two.

U.S. v. Brashear, supra.

The District Court Judge granted Brashear’s motion

on July 26, 2013. . . .On September 23, 2013, Brashear filed a motion . . . to continue trial and jury selection. In support, he averred that, as of that date, the PSP had not produced the required source code. On October 17, 2013, the government filed a motion to quash the subpoena. . . . The government alleges that compliance would be unreasonable and oppressive under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 17(c)(2). . . .

U.S. v. Brashear, supra.

The judge began his analysis of the issue by noting Brashear was alleging that

his subpoena is necessary to determine whether the use of the RoundUp program violated [his] 4th Amendment rights. . . . The government asserts that Brashear is attempting to improperly use Rule 17 as a discovery vehicle, that the source code is subject to the law enforcement privilege, and that the information sought is irrelevant because the use of RoundUp did not violate Brashear's 4th Amendment rights. . . .  

U.S. v. Brashear, supra.

The District Court Judge then explained that the

issuance of a subpoena is governed by Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 17. To obtain a subpoena under Rule 17, the moving party must establish the following:

`(1) that the documents are evidentiary and relevant; (2) that they are not otherwise procurable reasonably in advance of trial by exercise of due diligence; (3) that the party cannot properly prepare for trial without such production and inspection in advance of trial and that the failure to obtain such inspection may tend unreasonably to delay the trial; and (4) that the application is made in good faith and is not intended as a general “fishing expedition.” U.S. v. Nixon, 418 U.S. 683 (1974). The court must reconsider the Nixon standard when disposing of a motion to quash. U.S. v. Beckford, 964 F.Supp. 1010 (U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia 1997).’

U.S. v. Brashear, supra.

He then took up Brashear’s argument, and ultimately found that “the source code for RoundUp is not relevant because its use did not violate Brashear's 4th Amendment rights”. U.S. v. Brashear, supra.  The judge explained that the

source code for the RoundUp program is not relevant because investigating the use of a peer-to-peer file sharing program does not violate the 4th Amendment's protection against unreasonable searches. The 4th Amendment provides that `[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.’ U.S. Constitution, amendment iv.

A typical 4th Amendment analysis begins with analyzing whether the defendant possesses a reasonable expectation ofprivacy in the object being searched. Katz v. U.S., 389 U.S. 347 (1967)Kyllo v. U.S., 533 U.S. 27 (2001). Numerous cases have held that there is no reasonable expectation of privacy in files made available to the public through peer-to-peer file sharing programs. See, e.g., U.S. v. Stults, 575 F.3d 834 (U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit 2009); U.S. v. Ganoe, 538 F.3d 1117 (U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit 2008); U.S. v. Perrine, 518 F.3d 1196 (U.S.Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit 2008).

U.S. v. Brashear, supra.  For Katz and P2P file-sharing, see this prior post.  For thoughts on Kyllo and P2P file-sharing, see this other prior post.

The judge also noted that

Brashear wishes to compare the modified source code for RoundUp with the original PHEX source code, but there is no need. The RoundUp program only accesses files shared through the file sharing network. . . .

By sharing files with the network, Brashear essentially shared those files with the public. He had no reasonable expectation of privacy over the files shared with Gnutella and, therefore, the use of the RoundUp program could not have violated his 4th Amendment rights.

U.S. v. Brashear, supra. 

He also pointed out that Brashear argued, in response, that in U.S. v. Jones, 132 S.Ct. 945 (2012),

the use of the RoundUp program constituted a physical trespass of Brashear's `effect’ -- the computer -- and was therefore an unreasonable search.  In Jones, the Court addressed whether the warrantless installation of a GPS tracking device to the defendant's motor vehicle violated his Fourth Amendment rights. . . .

The Court concluded that the defendant's `4th Amendment rights do not rise or fall with the Katz formulation’ concerning the defendant's reasonable expectation of privacy. U.S. v. Jones, supra.  

Instead, the Court found that the defendant's motor vehicle was an `effect’ and the warrantless physical trespass of that `effect’ to obtain information or evidence constituted an unreasonable search under the 4th Amendment. U.S. v. Jones, supra.  However, the Court noted that `[s]ituations involving merely the transmission of electronic signals without trespass would remain subject to [the] Katz analysis.’ U.S. v. Jones, supra (emphasis in original).

U.S. v. Brashear, supra. 

As Wikipedia notes, the 4th Amendment says, in pertinent part, that the “right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated”.  Wikipedia (quoting 4th Amendment) (emphasis added).  In order to be protected under the 4th Amendment, a place or an item must fall within one of those four categories, i.e., must be a person, a house (or something analogous), papers (or something analogous) or an “effect”.

The judge concluded his analysis of Brashear’s argument by explaining that

[s]everal courts have rejected the application of Jones to the investigation of file sharing programs. See Russell v. U.S., 2013 WL 5651358 (U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri 2013); U.S. v. Nolan, 2012 WL 1192183 (U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri 2012); U.S. v. Brooks, 2012 WL 6562947 (U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York 2012); State v. Lemasters, 2013 WL 3463219 (Ohio Court of Appeals 2013)The court concurs with the rationale of these decisions.

The investigation of a file sharing program does not involve any physical trespass onto a constitutionally protected area. Trooper Powell did not physically enter Brashear's home or access his computer. Instead, Trooper Powell simply used a program that identified child pornography available on a public peer-to-peer file sharing program. This investigation involves `the transmission of electronic signals without trespass’ and does not implicate Brashear's 4th Amendment rights under Jones.

U.S. v. Brashear, supra. 

For these and other reasons, the judge granted the prosecution’s motion to quash the subpoena.  U.S. v. Brashear, supra. 

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