"Sneak and Peek" Search Warrants Are Easier to Obtain Than They Used to Be
Generally, police officers serving a warrant must "knock and announce" — that is, give you notice that they are the police and are serving a warrant (although they might not do this if they reasonably suspect that they will be put in danger, or that evidence will be destroyed, if they give such notice). If they have a warrant, they can enter and search even if you aren't home — but they still have to leave a copy of the warrant and an inventory of what they seized, so you'll know that your place was searched.
However, thanks to the USA PATRIOT Act, it is much easier for law enforcement to get permission from the court to delay notice rather than immediately inform the person whose premises are searched, if agents claim that giving notice would disrupt the investigation. Since the goal is not to tip the suspect off, these orders usually don't authorize the government to actually seize any property — but that won't stop them from poking around your computers.
The delay of notice in criminal cases can last months. The average delay is 30 to 90 days. In the case of super-secret foreign intelligence surveillance to be discussed later, the delay lasts forever — no one is ever notified, unless and until evidence from the search is introduced in open court.
The risk of being targeted with such a "sneak-and-peek" warrant is very low, although rising quickly. Law enforcement made 47 sneak-and-peek searches nationwide from September 2001 to April 2003 and an additional 108 through January 2005, averaging about fifty per year, mostly in drug cases. We don't know how many foreign intelligence searches there are per year — it's secret, of course — but we'd guess that it's much more common than secret searches by regular law enforcement.
Tuesday, June 26, 2012
"Sneak and Peek" Search Warrants | EFF Surveillance Self-Defense Project
Posted by Elyssa D'Educrat at Tuesday, June 26, 2012