United States v. Comprehensive Drug Testing, Inc. - Fordham Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal
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United States v. Comprehensive Drug Testing, Inc.

United States v. Comprehensive Drug Testing, Inc.

During an investigation into Bay Area Lab Co-operative (BALCO) that began in 2002, federal agents identified ten baseball players whom they believed obtained steroids from the company.  As a part of its search, the government seized electronic data from a third-party company, Comprehensive Drug Testing, which collected the test samples of a 2003 anonymous drug test given to Major League Baseball players.  Not only were the results of the ten players in those records, but so were the results of more than 100 others.  Some of those names – including All-Stars Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz – were subsequently leaked by government agents to publications such as Sports Illustrated and the New York Times.

Last year, in United States v. Comprehensive Drug Testing, Inc., 579 F.3d 989 (9th Cir. 2009), the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that the government was only entitled to information about the ten players it was investigating, and that the rest of the electronic data was obtained illegally.  In its decision, the court created a sweeping set of data privacy guidelines aimed to prevent a similar violation from occurring again.  These guidelines established that a government search must be carefully designed to obtain only the documents for which the government has probable cause, and that a third party must be used to segregate and redact the electronic data so that the investigators do not see any other information to which they are not entitled.

The guidelines were met with much criticism, including from the government, which complained that they were obstructing criminal investigations.  The government asked for and was granted a retrial.

Recently, the same panel handed down its revised decision, which confirmed the original holding that the taking was unconstitutional. United States v. Comprehensive Drug Testing, Inc., Nos. 05-10067, 05-15006, 05-55354, 2010 WL 3529247 (9th Cir. Sept. 13, 2010).  The new opinion, written per curiam, “calls for greater vigilance on the part of judicial officers in striking the right balance between the government’s interest in law enforcement and the right of individuals to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.”  Id. at *14.  The data privacy guidelines outlined  by the majority in the 2009 decision were reiterated in a concurring opinion written by Chief Judge Kozinski.

“We have been steadfast in our belief that the seizures were unconstitutional, and today’s announcement, reaffirming the Circuit’s previous ruling, is welcome news,” said MLBPA Executive Director Michael Weiner after learning about the decision.

Welcome or otherwise, the ruling cannot repair the reputations of the baseball players.

Richard Topaz