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Seizing data for 2.5 years amounts to "general warrant," court says


A federal appeals court has reversed an accountant's tax-evasion conviction because the government seized his computer data and held it for more than 2.5 years—a breach of the constitutional right to be free from unreasonable searches.

The 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last week that the government's tactics against the Connecticut accountant amounted to an "unreasonable seizure." The authorities seized the accountant's records while investigating alleged illegal activity of his clients. But they continued holding the data for years and later brought charges against the accountant, who was not the target of the original investigation.

"If the government could seize and retain non-responsive electronic records indefinitely, so it could search them whenever it later developed probable cause, every warrant to search for particular electronic data would become, in essence, a general warrant," Judge Denny Chin wrote for the appeals court.

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