Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Only Police May Search Your Home,Right? Guess Again

by Adam S Bauman Los Angeles Times:
Tuesday October 24th 1995

At 6:30 a.m. on July 26, off-duty U.S. marshals and officials from software maker Novell Inc. rang the doorbell at Joseph and Miki Casalino's home outside Salt Lake City. They were there, they said, to search for and seize any computer bulletin board (BBS) equipment that her son, Joseph III, was operating under the name "Planet Gallifrey BBS."

Had this been a criminal case, and had the search been conducted with a traditional criminal search warrant, it would not have been unusual. But the Casalinos were not the subject of a criminal-case search. Instead, they were the target of a little known but increasingly common civil-court procedure known as "ex-parte search and seizure with expedited discovery."

Scientology uses it, too
Especially alarming to some has been the recent use of ex-parte searches by the Church of Scientology. The church has conducted three such searches in a bid to thwart the alleged distribution, via the Internet computer network, of Scientology documents by church critics. The church contends these documents are protected by copyright and trade-secret law.

Tom Kelley, an attorney for ex-Scientologist Lawrence Wollersheim - whose Boulder, Colo., home was searched Aug. 22 by marshals, Scientologists and their attorneys - claimed that "what this permitted was an intelligence operation as opposed to a mere seizure of copyrighted materials. . . . it's like having your sworn enemy going though your underwear drawer."

While an ex-parte search requires a court order, the search is actually done by a private party, not law-enforcement officers - though an "officer of the court," often an off-duty federal marshal, normally must be present.

When the search is for electronic data - which can be easily hidden on a computer hard disk or on floppy disks that can be stashed anywhere - the searchers can virtually ransack a house and still be within the court order.
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