You Can Be Prosecuted for Clearing Your Browser History

Posted: June 2, 2015 in Politics

Khairullozhon Matanov is a 24-year-old former cab driver from Quincy, Massachusetts. The night of the Boston Marathon bombings, he ate dinner with Tamerlan and Dhzokhar Tsarnaev at a kebob restaurant in Somerville. Four days later Matanov saw photographs of his friends listed as suspects in the bombings on the CNN and FBI websites. Later that day he went to the local police. He told them that he knew the Tsarnaev brothers and that they’d had dinner together that week, but he lied about whose idea it was to have dinner, lied about when exactly he had looked at the Tsarnaevs’ photos on the Internet, lied about whether Tamerlan lived with his wife and daughter, and lied about when he and Tamerlan had last prayed together. Matanov likely lied to distance himself from the brothers or to cover up his own jihadist sympathies—or maybe he was just confused.

Then Matanov went home and cleared his Internet browser history.

Matanov continued to live in Quincy for over a year after the bombings. During this time the FBI tracked him with a drone-like surveillance plane that made loops around Quincy, disturbing residents. The feds finally arrested and indicted him in May 2014. They never alleged that Matanov was involved in the bombings or that he knew about them beforehand, but they charged him with four counts of obstruction of justice. There were three counts for making false statements based on the aforementioned lies and—remarkably—one count for destroying “any record, document or tangible object” with intent to obstruct a federal investigation. This last charge was for deleting videos on his computer that may have demonstrated his own terrorist sympathies and for clearing his browser history.

Federal prosecutors charged Matanov for destroying records under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, a law enacted by Congress in the wake of the Enron scandal. The law was, in part, intended to prohibit corporations under federal investigation from shredding incriminating documents. But since Sarbanes-Oxley was passed in 2002 federal prosecutors have applied the law to a wider range of activities. A police officer in Colorado who falsified a report to cover up a brutality case was convicted under the act, as was a woman in Illinois who destroyed her boyfriend’s child pornography.

Prosecutors are able to apply the law broadly because they do not have to show that the person deleting evidence knew there was an investigation underway. In other words, a person could theoretically be charged under Sarbanes-Oxley for deleting her dealer’s number from her phone even if she were unaware that the feds were getting a search warrant to find her marijuana. The application of the law to digital data has been particularly far-reaching because this type of information is so easy to delete. Deleting digital data can inadvertently occur in normal computer use, and often does.

Full Story @ [The Nation]

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