Court Challenges US Navy’s Dragnet Surveillance of Civilian Computers & Suppresses Evidence in Criminal Case
A federal appeals court issued a decision suppressing evidence found by a Naval Criminal Investigative Service special agent and used to prosecute a civilian for child pornography. The NCIS special agent had conducted dragnet surveillance of all civilians in an entire state. The “extraordinary nature of the surveillance” demonstrated “a need to deter future violations” of the Posse Comitatus Act and send a message to the government that military personnel are not permitted to enforce civilian laws.
NCIS Special Agent Steve Logan began to investigate the distribution of child pornography in late 2010. Months later, he used software called RoundUp to “search for any computers located in Washington state showing known child pornography on the Gnutella file-sharing network.” He found a computer with an IP address that was sharing child porn, downloaded three files and confirmed that these files were child porn.
The NCIS special agent requested the name and address that had been associated with the IP address when he downloaded the files. He submitted the request to the NCIS representative at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which then turned the request over to the FBI. The FBI sent Comcast an administrative subpoena and Logan ultimately obtained information indicating the IP address was associated with Michael Allan Dreyer of Algona, Washington.
Logan checked a Defense Department database for evidence of any current military affiliation. He found none and so Logan forwarded a report with supporting evidence on to the NCIS office in Washington. That office provided the evidence to Officer James Schrimpler of the Algona Police Department, which proceeded to initiate an investigation that led to additional searches of Dreyer’s computer.
Ultimately, videos and images of child porn were found and Dreyer was arrested, prosecuted and convicted of child pornography offenses. He was sentenced to 216 months in prison and lifetime supervised release. He appealed the conviction and argued that the “fruits of the investigation” in his case should have been suppressed because the military is prohibited from enforcing civilian laws.