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New report advises attorneys about law enforcement hacking

Criminal defense attorneys in Michigan have a new resource when confronted with evidence against their clients that was collected during law investigations in which computer users were secretly surveilled. A recent report released by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, American Civil Liberties Union and National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers explains how law enforcement spies on computer users in secret with hacking malware.

An alteration of federal criminal court procedures now allows federal agents to scan hundreds and even thousands of computers with a single search warrant. Authorities are not required to disclose whose information they are capturing or where they are searching electronically. Strategies outlined in the new report could assist attorneys that are trying to determine if law enforcement acted within the law when gathering evidence.

An recent FBI investigation of a child pornography website illustrates the massive scale of electronic searching that can be undertaken with just one warrant. After using malware to access the website, agents hacked into almost 9,000 computers of people visiting the website and eventually charged hundreds of them. The EFF has written supportive briefs on behalf those defendants challenging the validity of the search warrant, calling the large-scale hacking unconstitutional.

When it can be shown that evidence was gathered unlawfully, an attorney might succeed in getting it removed from the case. A person facing charges could ask a lawyer to review the evidence against him or her and suggest effective criminal defense strategies. Depending on the situation, an attorney might challenge weak evidence or cast doubt upon its association with his or her client. If the evidence is successfully challenged, it might result in a prosecutor reducing felony charges to misdemeanors or even dismissing the case. Consulting with a lawyer could also help someone decide whether to accept a plea deal or fight the charges in court.

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