DOJ offers guidance on electronic evidence

The Justice Department guidance on obtaining electronic evidence

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The Justice Department has released a manual that guides local and state law enforcement agencies on searching and seizing electronic evidence.

But the guide, drafted by the Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section of the department's criminal division, offers "assistance, not authority."

"Its analysis and conclusions reflect current thinking on difficult areas of law, and do not represent the official position of the Department of Justice or any other agency," the department stated in its preface to the manual. "It has no regulatory effect and confers no rights or remedies."

Nevertheless, everyone should read the manual, according to James Robinson, assistant attorney general in the criminal division.

"The guidebook is important not only for law enforcement agents and prosecutors but also for any American who uses a computer," he said. "Electronic privacy is important to us all, and the department wants everyone to know what their rights are."

The manual outlines how electronic surveillance laws apply to the Internet and how courts have applied the Fourth Amendment to computers and electronic communication. That amendment guarantees the rights of people against unreasonable search and seizure.

The guide is not the first: An earlier version was released in 1994, with supplements in 1997 and 1999. But officials believed that changes in law and the expansion of the Internet warranted an entirely fresh look at the search and seizure of electronic evidence.

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