Deleting your browser history could land you in court

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Deleting Your Browser History Could Land You in Court

Many Internet users delete their browser history and clear their cache and cookies without thinking twice about it. It's just one of those things you do — some more often than others — if you own and use a computer.

"If you don't clear this information, it's there for someone to come along and retrieve — either by sitting down at your computer or remotely if you visit vicious websites or get a virus," said a Patrol Tech expert.

But the recent Boston Marathon bombing trial has brought to light a law, ratified in 2002, that could land you with a federal charge of obstructing justice for — wait for it — clearing your browser history.

The Sarbanes-Oxley Act was initially created to combat corporate accounting scandals, like those of Enron and Worldcom in the late 1990s. Fast forward to today, and the law has become the basis for prosecuting individuals who delete their browser history if that browser history is considered evidence in a federal trial.

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Deleting your browser history could land you in court
WASHINGTON, : US President George W. Bush signs HR 3763 as members of the Congressional leadership and Cabinet members watch him sign the 'Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002' in the East Room of the White House 30 July 2002. The bill will improve quality and transparency in financial reporting and independent audits and accounting services for public companies. AFP PHOTO/Stephen JAFFE (Photo credit should read STEPHEN JAFFE/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, : The bill HR 3763, the 'Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002' waits on a table in the East Room for US President George W. Bush to sign at the White House 30 July 2002. The bill will improve quality and transparency in financial reporting and independent audits and accounting services for public companies AFP Photo/Stephen JAFFE (Photo credit should read STEPHEN JAFFE/AFP/Getty Images)
President Bush shakes hands with Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-Md, right, as Rep. Mike Oxley, R-Ohio, applaluds prior to signing the Sarbanes-Oxley Act in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, July 30, 2002. The law aims to make financial information released by public companies as accurate as possible by tweaking the checks and balances already in place. It boosts the independence of corporate boards and auditors and threatens serious sanctions for chief executives and chief financial officers who violate the rules. (AP Photo/Doug Mills)
WASHINGTON, : US President George W. Bush signs HR 3763, the 'Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002' in the East Room of the White House 30 July 2002. The bill will improve quality and transparency in financial reporting and independent audits and accounting services for public companies. AFP PHOTO/Stephen JAFFE (Photo credit should read STEPHEN JAFFE/AFP/Getty Images)
Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Harvey Pitt whispers to an unidentified man as he waits for President Bush to sign the "Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002" during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, July 30, 2002. The new law substantially changes business accounting practices and imposes tough penalties for violators. (AP Photo/Doug Mills)
WASHINGTON - SEPTEMBER 9: SEC Chairman William Donaldson testifies before the Senate Housing and Urban Affairs Committee on Capitol Hill September 9, 2003 in Washington, DC. The committee is hearing testimony on the implementation of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON - JULY 17: U.S. Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales (L) addresses members of the President?s Corporate Fraud Task Force during an event commemorating the fifth anniversary of the task force at the Department of Justice as Deputy Attorney General Paul J. McNulty listens July 17, 2007 in Washington, DC. According to Department of Justice as Deputy Attorney General Paul J. McNulty, powers granted by the Sarbanes-Oxley Act have allowed Department of Justice to prosecute 1,236 total corporate fraud convictions, including 214 chief executive officers and company presidents. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Washington, UNITED STATES: Attorney General Alberto Gonzales arrives to address members of the President's Corporate Fraud Task Force, during an event commemorating the fifth anniversary of the task force, at the Department of Justice July 17, 2007 in Washington, DC. According to Department of Justice as Deputy Attorney General Paul J. McNulty, powers granted by the Sarbanes-Oxley Act have allowed Department of Justice to prosecute 1,236 total corporate fraud convictions, including 214 chief executive officers and company presidents. AFP PHOTO/YURI GRIPAS (Photo credit should read YURI GRIPAS/AFP/Getty Images)
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In 2010, David Kernell, a University of Tennessee student at that time, was convicted under the act for deleting information on his computer that federal investigators said linked him to hacking then-vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin's Yahoo account.

The Nation reports, "At the time Kernell took steps to clean his computer, he does not appear to have known that there was any investigation into his conduct."

That didn't matter, though. Federal investigators felt they were "entitled" to the data.

"Let's be perfectly clear that these cyber cases [Internet cases] — because of the digital fingerprint that is left out there in cyberspace — are very difficult to defend," said criminal defense attorney Keith Sullivan on Fox News.

These cases are also very difficult to prosecute for the same reason — especially if you're doing what most IT professionals recommend and are clearing your browsing history and other "digital documents."

The Sarbanes-Oxley Act is now more than 10 years old, and the Internet is a very different place than it used to be. And yet, there haven't been any public calls for reforming the legislation. So for now, your Internetbrowser history — or removing it — could get you slapped with a federal charge.

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