A man in Florida was arrested and charged last September with possessing and distributing child pornography. Law enforcement based the charges on evidence gathered from a USB drive he left in a shared computer at the Bradford County Emergency Services (BCES). This week a federal judge ruled that he waived his privacy claims to the content on that device, because it was left in a public place.
The man claimed that the evidence should be thrown out, because it was illegally seized and that law enforcement violated his privacy. The judge disagreed saying that since the man’s supervisor found the USB drive and turned it over to law enforcement officials, it was evidence similar to an anonymous tip. Plus, since he left the drive in a public place, anyone who sat at the computer could open up any of the files.
We all have expectations of privacy with our files and documents, but as soon as they are out in public, they’re fair game. Leaving a USB drive in a public computer is like leaving a bunch of photographs on a table at a coffee shop; out in the open for anyone to take.
So how do you combat this? First of all don’t keep confidential files on a USB drive. But if you do, make sure the files are encrypted so if they get out in the open, no one can read them. This is like leaving your front door open and then complaining that someone came in and took your stereo. You have to take reasonable precautions against data theft. You can’t cry privacy rights violation if you don’t make an effort at protection.