Baseball Ruling Bolsters Online Privacy Rights

Bob Preston
SACRAMENTO — A federal court ruling in the world of professional baseball may affect online privacy for people.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that federal agents acted improperly when they seized a list of 104 Major League baseball players who had tested for performance enhancing drugs.

Writing for the 9-2 majority, Judge Alex Kozinski said that the list must be destroyed, adding that the action “was an obvious case of deliberate overreaching by the government in an effort to seize data as to which it lacked probable cause.”

The decision marked a victory for the Major League Baseball Players Association, which opposed the probe.

"If the government had never unconstitutionally seized the tests results, there would never have been any leaks," said Elliot Peters, a lawyer for the MLBPA. In addition, the court criticized federal investigators for not calling on more trained technical professionals to narrow their search.

"The government doesn’t need instruction from the court as to what kind of employees to use to serve its own purposes; the representation in the warrant that computer personnel would be used to examine and segregate the data was obviously designed to reassure the issuing magistrate that the government wouldn’t sweep up large quantities of data in the hope of dredging up information it could not otherwise lawfully seize," the justices said.

Sportswriter Chris Chester pointed out the widespread implications this ruling has for privacy advocates.

"The judge issues a search warrant to get some information off of your computer, and they just happen to stumble on your porn stash or maybe some videos of a certain personal nature," he said. "Then the judge decides that the stuff they found is pertinent to the case, and suddenly you've got blown-up pictures of your manparts and a list of all the dirty websites you've visited being argued over by lawyers, all because you had your budget in an excel file or something similarly innocuous. Is that a world we really want to live in?"