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In Florida, You Have a Right to Privacy in Your Home, But Not Necessarily Your Computer

In Florida, there are fairly strict rules that address when police can search your residence, your vehicle, yourself and your belongings. Essentially, if you have a reasonable expectation that the thing to be searched is private, then the police are limited in when and how they can search it. Certainly, this applies to your home, yourself and your vehicle. However, it does not apply to everything you own and in some cases, you lose your expectation of privacy when you use a belonging in a certain way.

For instance, if you have a computer, whether it’s a regular home computer or a laptop you carry with you or any mobile device that stores data and acts like a traditional computer, the police generally cannot take it from you and search it without a search warrant or consent from you. They also normally cannot use a program to search the contents of your computer or mobile device. However, if you use your computer in certain ways, the police can take steps to view the data on your computer or mobile device.

If you are on your computer and sharing files on a peer to peer network with other people, such as Gnutella, you open yourself up to allowing the state to see what you are doing. Since you are publicly sharing your information with others, you no longer have a reasonable expectation of privacy in those items and on that network. State and federal law enforcement agencies have catalogued certain files that are associated with criminal activity, such as child pornography, and when they see these items shared and/or downloaded, law enforcement can obtain the IP address and then subpoena the internet service provider to find an actual address. A search warrant and seizure of all computers and storage devices in the home will likely follow.

As long as the police search is limited to information that is made publicly available to others, this search of computer files and networks is legal. Therefore, if a person, in the privacy of his/her home, decides to get on a network and publicly share files, that person is opening him/herself up to monitoring by police.