The Navy Illegally Searched Civilians’ Computers For Child Porn, Court Rules

The U.S. Navy routinely scanned the computers of civilians in Washington state, leading to illegally-collected evidence being used to convict a civilian of child pornography charges.

In a decision released electronically Thursday, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Navy’s law enforcement arm, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, egregiously overstepped its bounds in a case that”amounts to the military acting as a national police force to investigate civilian law,” according to Reuters.

In 2010, a Naval investigator named Steve Logan, according to The Seattle Times, who was stationed in Georgia, used a law enforcement program known as “Roundup” to search computers in Washington State (home of several U.S. Navy installations) for child pornography using the file-sharing program Gnutella. Logan identified several suspicious files, and ultimately determined that those files belonged to a civilian named Michael Allan Dreyer. Logan turned over his findings to civilian law enforcement, and Dreyer, who had previously served time for possessing child pornography, was ultimately sentenced to 18 years.

“Agent Logan had no idea whether the computers searched belonged to someone with any affiliation with the military at all. Instead, it was his ‘standard practice to monitor all computers in a geographic area,’ here, every computer in the state of Washington.”

Dreyer’s lawyer, Erik Levin, argued that the Navy’s monitoring of civilian computers violated an 1878 law known as the Posse Comitatus Act, which prevents the military from enforcing civilian laws.

“This is, literally, the militarization of the police.”

The government’s position was that the Navy’s surveillance of civilians’ computers for child porn was incidental, and was only related to their legitimate search for child porn on computers used by Navy personnel. The Court didn’t buy it.

“To accept that position would mean that NCIS agents could, for example, routinely stop suspected drunk drivers in downtown Seattle on the off-chance that a driver is a member of the military, and then turn over all information collected about civilians to the Seattle Police Department for prosecution.”

The decision sends the case back to the civilian courts with the evidence the Navy gathered being suppressed.

[Image courtesy of: Business 2 Community]