In the US You Can Be Prosecuted for Clearing Your Browser History 5


Julian De Vries reports on The Nation website that in the US it is possible for someone to be prosecuted for deleting their browser history or other electronic records, even though the individual has no idea they are under any sort of investigation.

The problem lies with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which was originally enacted in the wake of the Enron scandal to stop corporations under investigation from shredding or destroying incriminating documents.  However, its application has been broadened out by prosecutors to cover situations way beyond its original aims.

One reason why it has been possible to expand its use is that prosecutors do not have to show that an individual deleting material is aware an investigation is underway.  As a result anybody even innocently deleting electronic records such as browser history or text messages, could years later be prosecuted for doing so.  The scenario is not a hypothetical one either, with a number of such cases prosecuted since the act was passed.

Comment from Newsblog Editor:

This type of scenario where the use of a particular piece of legislation is applied in situations way beyond its original aim or purpose is one that we are familiar with in the UK, a good example being the situation with the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA).  This act has routinely been expanded beyond its original aims, in particular by councils, to cover situations such as conducting surveillance to ensure children do live in a particular school catchment area.

How this type of abuse of legislation can be stopped is something that politicians, the legal profession and civil liberties campaigners should perhaps start thinking about.


5 thoughts on “In the US You Can Be Prosecuted for Clearing Your Browser History

  • cloudstarer

    So as phones & PC’s have a finite amount of storage, not deleting texts or browser history will eventually make them unusable.

    What then ?

    Does the law require they be stored and a new PC purchased to carry on ?

  • An Interested Party

    Cloudstarer,

    An interesting point you make. In a commercial environment a company would be expected to transfer data of regulatory nature (accounting info etc.) to a new system.

    What appears to be happening with Sarbanes-Oxley, is that these commercial providence rules are being extended to individuals across a wide range of electronic records. So the answer to your question appears to be, mad as it seems, yes – the electronic records should be transferred to the new device!

    It might be nonsense, but if the US courts are not going to apply common sense and strike this sort of thing down, then the prosecutors are going to continue to use it.

    • cloudstarer

      Which is a bit silly as you say.

      with my phone, if I don’t periodically clear out the SMS store it runs out of memory & stops working, same with browser history.

      It might take a long time with a PC but it will eventually stop working.

      Transferring everything to a new device might cure the problem temporarily, but soon that would become unusable too.

      Maybe we could apply to the government for costs as we’re storing their information for them.

  • An Interested Party

    Cloudstarer,

    An interesting point you make. In a commercial environment a company would be expected to transfer data of regulatory nature (accounting info etc.) to a new system.

    What appears to be happening with Sarbanes-Oxley, is that these commercial providence rules are being extended to individuals across a wide range of electronic records. So the answer to your question appears to be, mad as it seems, yes – the electronic records should be transferred to the new device!

    It might be nonsense, but if the US courts are not going to apply common sense and strike this sort of thing down, then the prosecutors are going to continue to use it.

    • cloudstarer

      Which is a bit silly as you say.

      with my phone, if I don’t periodically clear out the SMS store it runs out of memory & stops working, same with browser history.

      It might take a long time with a PC but it will eventually stop working.

      Transferring everything to a new device might cure the problem temporarily, but soon that would become unusable too.

      Maybe we could apply to the government for costs as we’re storing their information for them.

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