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The problem lies with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which was originally enacted in the wake of the Enron scandal to stop corporations under investigation from shredding or destroying incriminating documents.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.