The Yale Law Journal

VOLUME
119
2009-2010
NUMBER
4
January 2010
648-847
Article

Fourth Amendment Seizures of Computer Data

Orin S. Kerr

119 Yale L.J. 700 (2010). 

What does it mean to “seize” computer data for Fourth Amendment purposes? Does copying data amount to a seizure, and if so, when? This Article argues that copying data “seizes” it under the Fourth Amendment when copying occurs without human observation and interrupts the stream of possession or transmission. It offers this position by reaching back to the general purposes of regulating seizures in Fourth Amendment law and then applying those functions to the new environment of computers. The test prevents the government from copying data without regulation and yet also meets and answers the objections that have puzzled scholars and made it difficult to apply the old definition of seizures in the new computer environment.