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Judge rules: child pornography can be tracked through metadata

Not too far from Dallas, a U.S. District Judge has found that once an image was uploaded to the Internet, a defendant's right to privacy in the image was relinquished. This ruling came when a registered sex offender facing child pornography charges argued his Fourth Amendment rights had been violated by the FBI.

As the Internet explodes with new technological capabilities, questions and legal interpretations are on the increase as well. Defense of sexual offenses is becoming more complex by the day, but the basic rights of those accused must still be protected. In this case, the FBI seized iPhone photographic data and used its metadata to track down a man who allegedly uploaded child pornography to a website.

According to an affidavit submitted by the FBI agent, the investigators were able to access embedded information from an explicit image of a child on the website. The GPS coordinates where the photo was taken led them to the suspect's approximate location. Once they narrowed their search to the suspect's home, he allowed the agents entry. With proof by furniture comparison that the photo was taken at the home, the suspect admitted he took that picture as well as others. In addition to charges of sexual exploitation of children and possession and distribution of child pornography, the man faces penalties because he committed a felony offense that involved a minor.

The defendant argued in court that his Constitutional rights to protection from unreasonable searches and seizures were violated when the FBI obtained the hidden data. The court declined to suppress the evidence, ruling the defendant's attempt to carve the metadata from the public image had no support in the Fourth Amendment text or applied case law.

When faced with formulating a defense that must encompass complex evidence questions, it is important to have a knowledge-based approach. Suspects' rights need to be carefully considered in this ever-changing world of technology. Expertise is critical to assuring the best protections are afforded to the accused. If necessary, successful negotiations can help minimize the long-term consequences of convictions.

Source:, "Metadata Is Fair Game to Track Child Pornography" Bonnie Barron, Feb. 04, 2014

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