Deleting your browser history is common practice amongst most internet users – seen as the modern equivalent of shredding old documents – but a US law that was ratified back in 2002, and has been gaining recent traction during the Boston Marathon bombing trial, seems to support the idea that deleting your internet history could be deemed an obstruction of justice.
The ruling in question stems from the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which was created to tackle corporate accounting crimes – famous examples of which being the Enron and Worldcom scandals in the late 1990s – and deems destruction of evidence as a federal crime. The destruction, in this case, being the deletion of your browser history and/or cache. Section 802 of the Act considers “destroying, mutilating, concealing, falsifying records, documents, or tangible objects” to be obstruction of justice.
Back in 2010, David Kernell, suspected of hacking the Yahoo! account of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin fell victim to the ruling after it was discovered that he had deleted his internet history. “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,” The Nation reported. Federal investigators, however, deemed that knowledge irrelevant, maintaining that they were entitled to the data and that Kernell had destroyed evidence that could have incriminated him.
The same fate could now befall 24-year-old former cab driver Khairullozhon Matanov. Matanov was friends with Tamerlan and Dhzokhar Tsarnaev, the suspected perpetrators of the Boston Marathon bombing. When interviewed by police, Matanov lied about his last meeting with the Tsarnaev brothers. When he returned home from the police interview, he cleared his browser history and allegedly deleted a number of videos from his computer. For this, Matanov has been charged with obstruction of justice. He could face up to twenty years in prison.