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Personal Laptop No Guarantee of Privacy

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By David Perera April 6, 2007

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Using your privately-owned laptop at work still doesn’t mean you have a right to privacy for non-work files stored on that computer, CNET reports.

A technically-minded police officer in Glencoe, Okla., was troubleshooting a network problem on a laptop owned by city Treasurer Michael Barrows, who had been bringing his personal laptop into work. The officer found child pornography on Barrow’s hard drive. But the officer had not obtained a search warrant when he found the illegal material. Therefore, Barrows challenged the indictment on the grounds that he “‘had an expectation of privacy when he took his personal computer to his workplace at the town hall. It was his private property and was not used by any of the other city employees,’” according to the article.

A 10th Circuit judge disagreed, ruling Barrows had taken no steps to make his laptop private, such as using a password to gain access to the system. Barrows “was sentenced on August 25, 2006, to six years and six months in federal prison. He was also required to register as a sex offender and was sentenced to an additional three years of supervised release.”

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