E.D.Cal.: Internet research can provide PC for a SW

An officer’s internet search provided a substantial basis for finding probable cause to search defendant’s house for evidence of misrepresenting military service. Citations to the places where the information was be found elevated this above a mere anonymous tip. United States v. Tang, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 101743 (E.D. Cal. May 27, 2021):

[T]he Court finds the magistrate judge had “a substantial basis” for determining there was probable cause that Tang had misrepresented her military service on her visa application and that evidence of such service would be found in her apartment. See Gates, 462 U.S. at 239. Defendant, however, argues there was not probable cause, as the internet sources relied upon in the affidavit and translation tools used were not verified for accuracy. See Mot. at 4-9. To support her position, Defendant relies on precedent finding that allegations of an unknown informant are insufficient to support probable cause. Id. at 8. It is well established that information from an unverified, anonymous tip alone is not enough to demonstrate probable cause. See Gates, 462 U.S. at 239. Something else is required to indicate it is reliable. See id. at 232-35. But the Court is not persuaded that this situation, where a trained FBI agent relies on certain sources found on the internet, is akin to an unverified, anonymous tip.

This is not a case where law enforcement officers merely state they have received information that the defendant is engaged in criminal activity with no indication of who provided the information or how that person acquired such information. See Aguilar v. State of Tex., 378 U.S. 108, 109, 84 S. Ct. 1509, 12 L. Ed. 2d 723 (1964) abrogated by Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213, 103 S. Ct. 2317, 76 L. Ed. 2d 527 (1983). Rather, the affidavit specifically lists where the sources can be found. For example, the agent stated he relied on the Ministry of National Defense of the People’s Republic of China’s website to determine that Civilian Cadres are active military personnel. Aff. at 3. He also included a hyperlink. Id. Further, while it is true that the affidavit does not set forth the authors of the various articles, the information contained therein indicates where the information was obtained. For instance, one article describes a forum hosted in the city of Xi’an, China, where Tang was listed as one of four experts invited. Id. at 2. This context suggests that the writer obtained the information from attending or participating in the forum. See Gates, 462 U.S. at 234 (“even if we entertain some doubt as to an informant’s motives, his explicit and detailed description of alleged wrongdoing, along with a statement that the event was observed first-hand, entitles his tip to greater weight than might otherwise be the case.”)

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