Clearing your browsing history is a crime in United States according to the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002
In a recent article published in The Nation, it revealed the improper use of a law meant for completely different purposes by by federal prosecutors. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 was meant to provide authorities with tools to prevent criminal behavior by corporations. It was put into practice after the Enron meltdown when it was found out that executives or their servants following orders torn into shreds every document they could think of which may prove them guilty. The legislation’s goal was to stop companies from committing large fraud and then damaging the evidence of their conspiratorial criminality while investigations were under way.
The appropriate section of Sarbanes-Oxley reads as follows:
Whoever knowingly alters, destroys, mutilates, conceals, covers up, falsifies, or makes a false entry in any record, document, or tangible object with the intent to impede, obstruct, or influence the investigation or proper administration of any matter within the jurisdiction of any department or agency of the United States or any case filed under title 11, or in relation to or contemplation of any such matter or case, shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both.
Khairullozhon Matanov, a friend of the Tsarnaev brothers, the Boston Marathon bombers was interviewed by the Federal authorities about his association with them. However, the federal authorities never accused him for any activity linked to the bombing nor have they said that he was having knowledge of their plans or felt for them. During the interviews, he did however perpetrate a few small lies, of which none had any actual relation to the case. For instance, he lied that he had last time prayed with Tamerlan Tsarnaev together. On that grounds,
… they charged him with four counts of obstruction of justice. There were three counts for making false statements based on the aforementioned lies and—remarkably—one count for destroying “any record, document or tangible object” with intent to obstruct a federal investigation. This last charge was for deleting videos on his computer that may have demonstrated his own terrorist sympathies and for clearing his browser history.
Based on the records section of Sarbanes-Oxley mentioned above, the last charge was applied. The law meant to stop and punish corporate wrongdoing is instead used as a hammer against a private citizen to a great extent. Some people may feel that any possible application of a law is tolerable, especially in the continual war on terror. However, if that law is ever used against them, they might end up feeling differently about it.
The most unpleasant or offensive part of this is that it is being used to punish “pre-crimes.” When Matanov deleted his browser history, he had not been accused of anything and was not aware that he was under a formal inquiry. His crime was not predictable that federal agents may someday make a decision to examine him and thus failing to maintain any self-incriminating potential evidence.
As Hanni Fakhoury of the Electronic Frontiers Foundation put it, the government is saying:
“Don’t even think about deleting anything that may be harmful to you, because we may come after you at some point in the future for some unforeseen reason and we want to be able to have access to that data. And if we don’t have access to that data, we’re going to slap an obstruction charge that has as 20-year maximum on you.”
The article in The Nation shows that this is not an remote and unfair use of Sarbanes-Oxley, discussing many other similar cases. Traders and bankers danced away with multi-million dollar bonuses after their criminally reckless maneuvering almost put an end to the global economy. Their companies paid fines that are not worth to be considered for market manipulations and criminal money laundering. Until now, none of them have go to jail and none of them have been sued under Sarbanes-Oxley.
However, it is a different rule of law for an undistinguished or average citizen. As more and more data are stored online, the government wants and believes it has the rights to access that data for policing purposes. But Fakhoury disagrees.
“The idea that you have to create a record of where you’ve gone or open all your cupboards all the time and leave your front door unlocked and available for law enforcement inspection at any time is not the country we have established for ourselves more than 200 years ago.”
This law has been in the books for thirteen years now. It has not managed to control the corporate wrongdoing, but it is proving to be having a negative effect on citizens who have never swindled a shareholder in their lives. Combined with federal investigations through our online communications and their efforts to break secure encryption in our data storage, they want us to completely give up our personal freedom of thought and privacy.