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United States v. Ganias

Concerning Whether Courts Have Jurisdiction to Review Cases Brought Based on Violations of Federal Statutory Rights


The key issue in United States v. Ganias is whether the government may retain and search copies of electronic files, given that the files were not covered by the warrant under which they were seized. Due to the volume and complexity of digital data, courts have often recognized the need to over-seize electronic data and later review for relevant information off-site. However, the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee against unreasonable search and seizures places into question the subsequent retention and searches of information not covered by the original warrant.

The Second Circuit ruled that the government violated Stavros Ganias’s Fourth Amendment rights when it seized his personal computer records and retained them for more than two-and-a-half years. The government may not “possess indefinitely” Ganias’s records that were beyond the scope of the original warrant while it looked for other evidence to give it reason to search the files again.

The Second Circuit decided to rehear this case en banc, with oral argument to be held on September 30, 2015.

Top News

  • Mass. Supreme Judicial Court Rules Two Days of Mass Transit Records Not Enough to Constitute Search Under Fourth Amendment Mosaic Theory: The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court issued an opinion in Commonwealth v. Zachary finding that when Boston Police accessed two days of rider history from a metro pass they did not perform a search under the Fourth Amendment. The court first followed an argument from EPIC's amicus brief urging the court to reject the third-party doctrine for electronic data collected by a third party from an individual for the purpose of obtaining a service. The court decided, "we reject the doctrine as applied to this case, where the data at issue has no connection to the limited purpose for which an individual uses a CharlieCard." The court then applied the mosaic theory of the Fourth Amendment which looks at the whole sweep of a government action and the insights derived when individual data points are aggregated to determine whether a search occurred under the Constitution. The court held that while "an extensive record of an individual's MBTA activity could constitute a search under the mosaic theory, the minimal amount of data obtained in this case does not constitute a violation of art. 14 or the Fourth Amendment." EPIC previously filed an amicus brief in the landmark location privacy case Carpenter v. United States, in which the Supreme Court held that collecting seven days of cell phone location data, considered in aggregate, constituted a search. (Aug. 5, 2021)
  • EPIC & CDT Amicus Brief Highlights Dangers of Unchecked Government Collection of E-Scooter Location Data: EPIC and the Center for Democracy & Technology have filed an amicus brief supporting Los Angeles residents' court fight against a city initiative to collect detailed location information on all individual e-scooter trips taken in Los Angeles. The lawsuit is currently on appeal after the trial court dismissed the case because it found no privacy interest in the data. EPIC and CDT's amicus brief describes how Los Angeles spearheaded a new data collection pipeline called the Mobility Data Specification (or MDS) to standardize the location data that ride share providers collect so that the data can easily be disclosed to governments for analysis—and, potentially, surveillance. EPIC and CDT wrote that MDS has the "power to turn a so-called 'smart city' into a surveillance state that is inimical to the Fourth Amendment." The amicus brief describes how MDS was developed to track any shared mobility vehicle, and that Los Angeles already had plans to expand the program to rideshare data from Uber and Lyft. EPIC and CDT also argued that the city's policy goals could be achieved without collecting individual trip data, and described how aggregation, differential privacy, and sampling are widely used to analyze mobility data and protect privacy more than bulk disclosure of individualized trip data. EPIC routinely files amicus briefs in cases applying the Fourth Amendment to novel technologies. (Aug. 3, 2021)
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  • Congressional Research Service: Kavanaugh has a "more restrictive view" of the Fourth Amendment » (Aug. 27, 2018)
    The Congressional Research Service, has published a report regarding Supreme Court nominee Judge Kavanaugh's jurisprudence. The nonpartisan CRS provides policy and legal analysis to committees and Members of both the House and Senate, regardless of party affiliation. The CRS report discusses Judge Kavanaugh's potential impact on the Supreme Court if confirmed. According to the report, Judge Kavanaugh has a "more restrictive view" on the constitutional right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures than other judges on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. Notably in Klayman v. Obama, Judge Kavanaugh stated that the National Security Agency's suspicionless surveillance of the American public was "entirely consistent with the Fourth Amendment." The report also includes an Appendix with tables that summarizes his rate of concurring and dissenting opinions relative to other judges on the D.C. Circuit and how his opinions have fared when reviewed by the Supreme Court.
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  • Supreme Court to Review Two Cases on Communications Privacy » (Oct. 16, 2017)
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  • Supreme Court to Hear Two Fourth Amendment Cases » (Sep. 28, 2017)
    The Supreme Court has agreed to review two Fourth Amendment car search cases. In Collins v. Virginia, the Court will decide whether police can search a vehicle parked in the driveway of a private home without first obtaining a warrant. In Byrd v. United States, the Court will decide whether a person driving a rental car loses their expectation of privacy in the vehicle solely because they are not the official driver on the rental agreement. The Court is already set to hear Carpenter v. United States this fall, a major Fourth Amendment case about warrantless searches of cell phone location data. EPIC filed a "friend-of-the-court" brief in that case urging the Court to extend Constitutional protection to cell phone data. EPIC regularly files briefs with the Supreme Court arguing for greater Fourth Amendment protections, including in Utah v. Strieff, Los Angeles v. Patel, and Riley v. California.
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  • Supreme Court: Strip-Search of Teenager Violated Constitutional Rights » (Jun. 25, 2009)
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Questions Presented

1. Whether the Fourth Amendment was violated when, pursuant to a warrant, the government seized and cloned three computer hard drives containing both responsive and non-responsive files, retained the cloned hard drives for some two-and-a-half years, and then searched the non-responsive files pursuant to a subsequently issued warrant.

2. Considering all relevant factors, whether the government agents in this case acted reasonably and in good faith such that the files obtained from the cloned hard drives should not be suppressed.


Stavros Ganias owned an accounting practice in Connecticut. In 2003, the Army obtained a warrant to search Ganias’s offices for evidence of fraud. During its search, the Army made “identical copies, or forensic mirror images, of the hard drives of all three of Ganias’s computers.”  Thirteen months later, the government finished reviewing the relevant materials but continued to keep files not covered by the Army warrant. Almost two-and-a-half years later, in 2006, the government obtained another warrant to search the stored files as part of a new IRS tax evasion investigation.

Using this evidence, the government prosecuted Ganias in the District Court for the District of Connecticut. A jury convicted Ganias of tax evasion. Ganias appealed in the Second Circuit, which vacated his conviction. The Second Circuit held that, under the Fourth Amendment, the government may not indefinitely possess records beyond the scope of the Army warrant while looking for other evidence to give it reason to search the files again. On June 29, 2015, the Second Circuit decided to rehear the appeal en banc. Oral argument will be heard on September 30, 2015.

EPIC's Interest

EPIC has long advocated for application of the “interception” standard to email, and filed a 2004 amicus brief on this issue in U.S. v. Councilman.

EPIC also supports the framework established by the Ninth Circuit in Comprehensive Drug Testing to address the scope of electronic data searches—including the obligations of minimizing and deleting non-pertinent data after the search is conducted. EPIC recently addressed the CDT framework in its brief in Quon v. City of Ontario, CA.

More recently, EPIC filed a brief in Riley v. California, advocating for greater Fourth Amendment protections for digital data. And the Supreme Court in a unanimous opinion agreed, finding that the traditional rule governing the seizure of physical items incident to a lawful arrest does not authorize a search of the digital contents of a seized cell phone.

Legal Documents

United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, No. 12-240-cr.

United States District Court for the District of Connecticut, No. 08-cr-224

  • Ruling on Motions for New Trial & for Reconsideration, United States v. Ganias, No. 08-224, 2011 WL 4738684 (D. Conn. Oct. 5, 2011).
  • United States v. Ganias, No. 08-224, 2011 WL 3563104 (D. Conn. Aug. 12, 2011).
  • Ruling on Motion to Suppress Evidence, United States v. Ganias, No. 08-224, 2011 WL 2532396 (D. Conn. June 24, 2011).

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