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Name: U.S. v. Heckenkamp
Case #: 05-10322
Court: US Court of Appeals
District 9 Cir
Opinion Date: 04/05/2007

A student-defendant may have a legitimate, objectively reasonable expectation of privacy in his personal computer where the evidence shows that the computer is protected by a screen saver password, is located in defendant’s school dormitory room, and is not subject to any policy allowing the university to audit or monitor its use. Attaching the computer to the school network will not necessarily extinguish privacy interests. But under the “special needs” exception, a warrant allowing the remote search of a computer is not required when “special needs, beyond the normal need for law enforcement make the warrant and probable cause requirement impracticable.” (New Jersey v. T.L.O. (1985) 469 U.S. 325, 351.) If such conditions exist, the court will determine the constitutionality of the search by balancing the need to search against the intrusiveness. Here, because an investigation revealed that access had been gained to the university e-mail service on the eve of finals and disruption on campus would be tremendous if the e-mail system was destroyed, and appellant had previously been terminated from a computer-help position for unauthorized activity, special needs justified the search.