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If a third party has a personal computer which contains evidence of a crime then that computer can be seized by law enforcement as evidence, rather than the data being copied from the computer and the computer being left with its owner. However, as exampled here, when evidence of a crime might be found in a cloud storage account, law enforcement asks for a copy of the data rather than physically seizing from the cloud service the storage devices on which the data is stored.

So why the difference? Is it merely a matter of practicality, or is there some law requiring physical seizure of the computer in one circumstance but not in the other?

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Here is one example. The officer had to provide reasons for believing that a search would provide evidence of a crime. One thing to note is that the thing to be searched is specific (google data for a specific account), A blanket warrant to search all servers for all data and all accounts would be too broad, and would not be granted.

It is apparently common enough that Google is now charging $245 for search warrants.

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  • Thanks. I'm updating my question to make it more clear, using that search warrant as an example. – Matthew Cline Sep 28 '20 at 17:03

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