Court ruling impacts the ramifications of data raids

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Court ruling impacts the ramifications of data raids

When prosecutors in Suwon, Gyeonggi, requested a search warrant for digitalized records from the director of a local pharmaceutical company suspected of a breach of trust, little did they know that a routine practice would later lead a legal controversy.

It was in early 2011 when the Suwon District Court issued the warrant and prosecutors raided the suspect’s office, confiscating a digital data storage device that seemed to contain key evidence for their investigation.

The device was sent to the prosecution’s forensic officers and all the information stored inside was duplicated for further reference. The suspect’s aides observed this process for a while, leaving midway.

However, when Suwon prosecutors looked over the copied data, they discovered that the CEO might be subject to additional charges regarding tax evasion.

But that is when the suspect turned the tables, claiming the raid was invalid primarily because prosecutors had confiscated data that was not specified in the search warrant.

The Suwon District Court ruled in favor of the entrepreneur, prompting prosecutors to appeal the case with the Supreme Court, only to hear a similar verdict on Monday.

The country’s highest court earlier this week ruled that collecting data not detailed in the search warrant is illegal and that all data collected from the raid four years ago was null.

It is illegal for investigators to copy or print data from a confiscated device that is irrelevant to an initial allegation, the decision read.

Although local courts in the past have handed down similar rulings, which indicated that assembling data unmentioned in a search warrant was unconstitutional, the latest verdict marked the first time a court called off a raid entirely due to a partial illegality.

Prosecutors fiercely opposed the judgment Monday, with one representative, who requested anonymity, stating that the decision “failed to reflect the reality” of their work.

“Even if scores of prosecutors and investigators are assigned to the take, it would take us countless months to look through the storage devices seized during a raid on a conglomerate,” the prosecutor said.

“It is physically impossible for an observer [from the suspect’s camp] to personally check all the information we collect.”

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