The past few months, judges, defense lawyers, and the government have been fighting over whether obtaining a Tor user’s real IP address, perhaps through hacking, counts as a search under the Fourth Amendment. The debate has serious consequences for whether law enforcement requires a warrant to break into a suspect’s computer, even if it’s only to learn the target’s IP address. US District Court Judge Robert W Pratt argued that when the FBI hacked suspected Playpen users and grabbed their IP addresses, that constituted a search.
He stated “If a defendant writes his IP address on a piece of paper and places it in a drawer in his home, there would be no question that law enforcement would need a warrant to access that piece of paper—even accepting that the defendant had no reasonable expectation of privacy in the IP address itself,” Pratt writes in his order. Judges are divided over whether obtaining the IP addresses in this way constitutes a search, and whether Tor users have a reasonable expectation of privacy around their real IP address.