How Clearing One’s Browser History Might Be a Federal Crime

McLac2000 [Public domain, CC0 1.0 (https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/deed.en)], via PixabayThe body of statutes and regulations encompassing federal criminal law has grown considerably in the past few decades, and federal law can affect people in unusual and unexpected ways. In a case that made headlines in 2015, federal prosecutors used a confluence of two areas of criminal law, financial fraud and terrorism, to charge a man in connection with the April 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. United States v. Matanov, No. 1:14-cr-10159, indictment (D. Mass., May 29, 2014). Prosecutors conceded that the defendant, who knew the two bombers, was not involved in the bombing and had no advance knowledge of it. Instead, they charged him with offenses related to false statements and destruction of evidence because he deleted his browser history.

The charges against the defendant were based on a law, known as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, passed in the wake of the Enron scandal in 2002. Pub. L. 107-204, 116 Stat. 745. The law added a section to the chapter of the federal criminal code dealing with obstruction of justice, making it an offense to “destroy[]…any record, document, or tangible object with the intent to impede, obstruct, or influence the investigation…of any matter within the jurisdiction of any department or agency of the United States…or in relation to or contemplation of any such matter or case…” Pub. L. 107-204 § 802(a), 116 Stat. 800; 18 U.S.C. § 1519. Interpreted broadly, this could allow a prosecution for disposing of records that could be used in a hypothetical future federal investigation. In the defendant’s case, prosecutors accused him of destroying evidence needed in the investigation of the Boston Marathon bombing.

The bombing occurred on April 15, 2013 along the route of the Boston Marathon. Two bombs exploded, killing three people and wounding hundreds. The suspects killed a police officer on April 18, and a massive manhunt led to the death of one bombing suspect in the early morning of April 19 and the arrest of the other later that day. The surviving suspect was convicted of all charged offenses in April 2015, and a jury sentenced him to death in May.

According to the indictment, the defendant personally knew both suspects. The indictment states that he had contact, both by telephone and in person, with both of them shortly after the bombing. The defendant spoke to a detective with the Braintree Police Department on April 19, telling the detective that he knew the suspects. The indictment claimed that some of the information provided by the defendant was “intended to be false and misleading.” Matanov, indictment at 7.

The detective reportedly told the defendant that the FBI might want to talk to him. Later that day, according to the indictment, the defendant “deleted a large amount of information from his computer.” Id. at 9. This included portions of his internet cache, the record of websites recently visited that a web browser stores “to speed up the program’s operation,” id., for April 18 and 19.

Prosecutors charged the defendant with one count of destruction of records under 18 U.S.C. § 1519. They also charged him with three counts of making false statements in a federal terrorism investigation. 18 U.S.C. § 1001(a)(2). In a superseding information filed in January 2015, prosecutors changed the § 1519 charge to a charge of “Falsifying, Concealing, and Covering up a material Fact in a Federal Investigation” under § 1001(a)(1). The defendant pleaded guilty to all counts, while also maintaining his innocence. A judge sentenced him to 30 months in prison in June 2015.

These blog posts are meant to be illustrative only. Unless expressly stated to the contrary herein, these matters are not the result of any legal work of Michael J. Brown, but are used to communicate a particular point of view. Michael J. Brown does not claim credit for any legal work done by any lawyer or law firm either generally or specifically, with respect to the matters contained in this blog.

For the past two decades, board-certified federal crimes attorney Michael J. Brown has advocated for the rights of defendants in west Texas state and federal courts. Contact us today online or at (432) 687-5157 to schedule a confidential consultation to see how we can help you.

More Blog Posts:

Federal Drug Laws Come into Conflict with Tribal Laws on Indian Land, Texas Criminal Lawyer Blog, December 23, 2015

Enforcing Criminal Indictments Across State and International Borders, Texas Criminal Lawyer Blog, December 23, 2015

Nine People Indicted for Alleged Insider Trading, Using Information Allegedly Obtained by Hacking, Texas Criminal Lawyer Blog, October 30, 2015

Photo credit: McLac2000 [Public domain, CC0 1.0], via Pixabay.