His Crime?  Deleting His Browser HistoryMatanovImage

After pleading guilty to obstruction of justice in March, the friend of Boston Marathon bombers, Khairullozhon Matanov, was sentenced last week to 30 months in prison.  His crime?  “Destroying, altering, and falsifying records, documents, and tangible objects in a federal investigation, specifically information on his computer.”

Yes, that is right.  Matanov was slapped with a version of an old Sarbanes-Oxley Act statute signed into law by President Bush in the post-Enron world of 2001.  The law, originally designed to provide an investigative lever in financial fraud cases, has been creatively applied by prosecutors in the Boston Marathon Bomber case.  Shortly after the bombing, Matanov was accused of deleting his browser history and other important electronic evidence when he felt the heat of the feds in the ensuing investigation.

Will the future application of this law to internet users infringe on individuals’ rights? Naturally, this development has created a spirited debate.  Some fear that a seemingly innocent task could land a person in jail for two decades.  Is it possible we can actually rely on good old fashioned “common sense” in distinguishing between grandma’s deletion of her favorite oatmeal cookies recipe and a terrorist accomplice who removes the google search term “how to make a bomb” from his browser history?  I certainly hope so.

No one knows how broadly the Sarbanes-Oxley Act will be used by prosecutors in our internet age, or what specifically an individual should preserve in case they become a target of a federal investigation.  Word to the wise:  If you are engaged in felony behavior, or helping someone else who is doing so, understand that destroying digital evidence can be held against you.  That seems pretty straightforward.

Note:  Special thanks to our friend, Scott Fishman at Freeborn Peters for the inspiration for this article.   Thanks, Scott!