James Holmes, the defendant in the horrific Aurora, Colorado movie theater shootings lost a legal challenge recently that raises some interesting privacy issues. Holmes filed a motion to suppress records that police had obtained from the dating services AdultFriendFinder and Match.com. (Note to users of online dating services – be really careful about who you get matched with).
Holmes wanted the court to exclude his online profile as well as information about his log on and browsing activity while on the site. The court denied the motion.
Given that the 4th Amendment prohibits only “unreasonable” searches and seizures, the court needed to determine if Holmes had a reasonable expectation of privacy in any of the records. On the profiles, the answer was easy. He didn’t. As the court noted, he posted his profiles on the sites “with the intent to make them accessible to other members of the website.” Which is intuitively obvious to most people. It’s a DATING SITE. That’s why people post the profiles in the first place. Not to mention why they make stuff up about themselves.
The “subscription information” – what Holmes looked at while on the site – was a little trickier. I suspect no one who uses a dating site (or any other site for that matter) expects that the public will ever see what that user browsed. But the court didn’t see this as determinative. Holmes did not help himself here, since he declined to present evidence on the question of his expectation, despite the court’s request that he do so. But that may not have mattered. The key for the court is contained in this passage: “the defendant voluntarily conveyed and exposed identification and billing information to two large social networking services. Furthermore, he voluntarily exposed his IP address to the administrators of both networks. Through his IP address, the website administrators were able to collect his log data, including log in times and the duration of sessions. There is no basis in the record to conclude that the defendant did not know that the websites would collect, monitor, transfer, and manipulate his log data.”
The lesson? If you voluntarily put information about yourself online, or even let the ISP see what you’re up to, you may be sacrificing your privacy more than you know. Fourth Amendment or no Fourth Amendment.