- Associated Press - Friday, September 12, 2014

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - A federal appeals court overturned on Friday a Washington state man’s conviction for possessing and distributing child pornography because he was found out by a military investigator.

A Naval Criminal Investigative Service agent used a high-powered software program in 2010 to search computers throughout the state of Washington for evidence of child pornography and discovered the material in Michael Dreyer’s computer.

The agent passed the information on to police in Algona, Washington, which obtained a search warrant and searched Dreyer’s house. The Department of Homeland Security later got a federal search warrant, and Dreyer was charged in federal court.

When the search was challenged, the government argued that the search was justified because there are military bases in the greater Seattle area, and it’s a crime for military members to distribute child pornography.

A panel of the Ninth District Court of Appeals in San Francisco said the computer surveillance didn’t target military bases or personnel, but extended across an entire state.

The ruling said the search was so sweeping, it shows “a profound lack of regard for the important limitations on the role of the military in our civilian society.” It noted “abundant evidence” that the Navy frequently hacks into civilian computer to search for evidence of child pornography and turn it over to the police if the computer owner has no relation to the military.

“This is, literally, the militarization of the police,” defense attorney Erik Levin told the San Francisco Chronicle (http://bit.ly/1m1bv8E). “They have enough funding that they can go out and stray from the core mission of national security and get into local law enforcement.”

The court sent the case back to a lower court for further proceedings.

One judge dissented from the portion of the ruling that overturned Dreyer’s conviction. Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain called the decision “a breathtaking assertion of judicial power … for the benefit of a convicted child pornographer.”

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