Judges so angered by NCIS spying on civilians they’re willing to let child sex offender go free
Federal appeals judges were so angered by the Navy’s “massive” and indiscriminate spying on ordinary citizens in Washington state, they’re willing to let a repeat child pornography offender go free to prove a point.
The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals threw out evidence last week against convicted sex offender Michael Allan Dreyer, who was targeted by the elite Naval Criminal Investigative Service during a child pornography sweep.
The three-judge panel ruled that the Navy’s routine surveillance of private citizens violated the Posse Comitatus Act — which prohibits military enforcement of civilian laws – and ordered a new trial for the 60-year-old Dreyer, reported the Sacramento Bee.
“Such an expansive reading of the military role in the enforcement of civilian laws demonstrates a profound lack of regard for the important limitations on the role of the military in our civilian society,” argued Judge Marsha Berzon.
A Navy investigator based in Georgia identified a computer sharing suspicious files and subpoenaed Comcast, which then identified Dreyer as the owner of the IP address.
Agent Steve Logan determined Dreyer was not a member of the armed services, then sent a summary of his investigation to the NCIS office in Washington state, which then turned over the evidence to police in Algona.
“It has become a routine practice for the Navy to conduct surveillance of all the civilian computers in an entire state to see whether any child pornography can be found on them, and then to turn over that information to civilian law enforcement when no military connection exists,” the court ruled.
Dreyer was convicted in 2012 on federal charges and sentenced to 18 years in prison after U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman allowed video evidence gathered by Navy investigators to be used in a four-day trial.
The appeals court sent his case back to district court and ordered the judge to exclude NCIS evidence, which his public defender said would likely allow Dreyer – who served 27 months for a 2000 child pornography conviction — to go free.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office may ask the case to be heard again by the entire appeals court, saying the three-judge panel may have misunderstood the technology used by the Navy investigator.
The government argued Logan was a civilian employee of the NCIS, but the appeals panel strongly disagreed.
“There could be no bona fide military purpose to this indiscriminate peeking into civilian computers,” wrote Senior 9th Circuit Judge Andrew Kleinfeld. “Letting a criminal go free to deter national military investigation of civilians is worth it.”
The panel rejected Logan’s argument that he believed the location of Dreyer’s IP address suggested he might be a member of the military, which has a number of bases in the area.
“To accept that position would mean that NCIS agents could, for example, routinely stop suspected drunk drivers in downtown Seattle on the off-chance that a driver is a member of the military, and then turn over all information collected about civilians to the Seattle Police Department for prosecution,” argued Berzon, the appellete judge.