Baseball’s Black List Obtained Illegally


LOS ANGELES—The toothpaste is out of the tube, and it can’t be put back in. But a federal court has ruled that the seizure of a list of 104 Major League Baseball players who failed a drug test in 2003 was illegal.

In a decision that could have a far-reaching effect on police searches in the digital age, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that federal agents made an unreasonable search when they took the list from a computer at Comprehensive Drug Testing Inc. of Long Beach, California. That’s because the original search warrant only included the names of 10 players on the list. The Court, in a 9-2 ruling, stated that the feds overstepped their bounds in taking the list, which contained the names of 94 players not on the search warrant.

Some names from the list were then leaked to the media, including those of Yankees All Star Alex Rodriguez and Red Sox home run hitter David Ortiz. “This was an obvious case of deliberate overreaching by the government in an effort to seize data as to which it lacked probable cause,” wrote Judge Alex Kozinski. Privacy rights of those not on the warrant were violated, including protections against unreasonable searches, which is a right guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution.

Federal prosecutors argued that the list, which was accessed to find information about the 10 players found on the warrant, was in plain sight. Judge Kozinski, on the other hand, stated that taking the other names constituted an unreasonable search. He laid out guidelines for such computer searches in the future, including information sorting by an independent party in the case of lists like this one, where related and unrelated information is mixed.

The federal government has now returned the list to the Players’ Union, and will not be able to use any of the other information from the list in their investigation.

The performance enhancing drug testing, which led to creation of the list, according to the court, “was solely to determine whether more than five percent of players tested positive, in which case there would be additional testing in future seasons.” Players gave the tests on the condition that their results would be anonymous, a condition players are going to be reluctant to believe in future tests, according to players’ union officials and Judge Kozinski, who wrote, “the risk to the players associated with disclosure, and with that the ability of the Players’ Association to obtain voluntary compliance with drug testing from its members in the future, is very high.”


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