May An Officer Ask a Business to Execute a Search Warrant on Itself?

Once upon a time, search warrants were simple. An officer would obtain a warrant to search a suspect’s home or some other physical location connected to a crime. The officer would go to the location, announce his or her presence, and conduct the search. But these days, officers frequently want to obtain records and other evidence from businesses not suspected of any wrongdoing. For example, they want bank records that can be used to trace the suspect’s ill-gotten gains. They want cell site location information that can be used to tie the suspect to the crime scene. And they want email records that show communication between the suspect and his or her coconspirators. Officers do not typically kick down these businesses’ doors and start rummaging around, partly because that would be needlessly disruptive and partly because officers might have a hard time locating evidence stored in the cloud or on a server located who-knows-where. Instead, officers obtain a search warrant, then send a copy of the warrant to the company in question and ask the company to search its own records and provide responsive materials. Is that OK?

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