Can't civilians search themselves?

I was reading this article on the CNN web site:

http://www.cnn.com/2002/TECH/internet/05/14/internet.searches.reut/index.html

Reading this, I am to understand that police must conduct searches, not civilians. That’s okay, but what exactly is the reason for this?

I could understand that people are worried about their privacy being violated by average citizens. Even if the police are justified in violating privacy in a particular case, I might not want just-some-guy coming to my house and looking through my drawers.

But if that’s the case, then I think it wouldn’t apply here, because here Yahoo! is just searching themselves. It would be like a police officer calling me on the phone and saying, “Hey, Neptune, we’re conducting a murder investigation. Could you look under your sofa and see if there’s a bloody knife there?” “Sure, no problem. Hold on … Let’s see, some popcorn, an old Rubik’s cube, eighty-five cents in change, … and look there, a bloody knife! Howd’ya know it was there?” But certainly there’s no law against me looking under my own sofa. - Same thing with Yahoo!. They’re just looking through their own records in their own office, yes?

Or is it just a matter of whether the search will hold up in court? If the police don’t do the search, then who’s to say what really happened. Am I a realiable witness to describe what I found under my sofa?

The Fourth Amendment is a restriction imposed upon the government by its citizens. It does not apply to citizens searching themselves.

What is probably more important is that any “evidence” uncovered by Yahoo! staff is tainted, and most like inadmissible in court. The warrant to search is issued by a judge for law enforcement (the government) to execute. The Yahoo! staff are not authorized “agents” of law enforcement, no matter what the cops or the fax says. Who is to say that the Yahoo! staff will just “manufacture” the evidence?

One doesn’t have to be a lawyer to see the holes in the case.

So is all evidence produced by non-law-enforcement tainted?

Scenario 1: I call the police: “I thought you should know. I doing some housecleaning and I went to clean under the sofa, and there was this bloody knife.” - “Thanks. Don’t touch it. It might be evidence in a murder that took place down the street a couple days ago.”

Scenario 2: The police call me: “Could you look under your sofa?” - “Sure. Hey, look. There’s a bloody knife.”

You’re saying that the evidence discovered in Scen 2 would be tainted because it was discovered by non-law-enforcement personnel. Would that apply to Scen 1 as well? Is all evidence useless in court unless it was discovered by the police because it might’ve been manufactured?

That will be something for the defendant’s lawyer(s) to establish.

Good, a law question. I’m still smarting over being one-upped in General Questions over Bonobo fellatio.

I don’t know much about how Yahoo works, but if it works like I think it does the guy is gonna have a hard time. You generally don’t have a privacy interest in material you make available to third parties, like your bank account or what phone numbers you dial. The argument that certain recordkeeping, recording, and disclosure statutes made banks unwilling agents of the government didn’t fly with the Supreme Court. Neither did the argument that making the phone company install “pen registers” that trace phone numbers one dials makes private citizens unwilling participants. I can see the argument that turning over this material is no different from turning over financial records or phone numbers.

Bear in mind, for those two situations they don’t even need a warrant at all. Here they had one. I don’t think he’s going to get too far with that one.

The next paragraph in the story reads:

The question is: how does letting a civilian do the search make the search unreasonable?

I can understand that in any trial you have to establish the reliability of any witness. The defendant could argue that the people at the Yahoo! office are lying scum, or that a fax prevents them from facing their accusers. But what does any of that have to do with unreasonable search and seizure.

I thought the idea of unreasonable search and seizure is to answer the question, did law enforcement have a good reason to order the search?

Hmm. It’s hard to say without knowing more details, knowing more about Yahoo!, and knowing what precedent the judge was acting on. I’d have to research the 8th Circuit.

For example, the 6th Circuit threw out a conviction when the police brought along a GM technician when looking for a stolen generator to see if he could identify other stolen GM property. He took 231 photos during the search. The court threw that one out because he was aiding in recovering property not mentioned in any warrant, and that they thought officers may exceed the scope of a warrant by allowing unauthorized invasions of privacy by third parties who have no connection to the search warrant or to the reason for the officers being on the premises. But even if that were the law in the 8th Circuit I don’t see how it would apply.

I want to say that it’s just a bad application of the law, but federal judges are usually no dummies…like I say, I’d need to know more about the case.