Can trash be used in court?

Can trash be used in court?
Can trash be used in court?

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By Andre Yeo
October 18, 2007

CAN information from the rubbish in your bin be used against you in a 
civil case?

Right now this is a grey area in Singapore law.

But it is allowed in the US state of Florida, said a lawyer who is here 
for the International Bar Association (IBA) Conference. He gave details 
of how a debtor was caught concealing his assets.

In Singapore, the issue came up when the High Court ruled in February 
that information from your rubbish bin can't be used against you.

But Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong allowed an appeal against the ruling, 
saying the issue would have 'serious repercussions for everybody'.

However, he said the issue of who owns the rubbish should be decided in 
a separate trial.

Lawyer Adrian Tan said: 'Many multi-national companies would be 
comforted to know if there is clear legislation on this topic. They come 
from places where their laws are more stringent.

'So, if we want to attract them here, we need to offer them the same 
level of protection that they get in their own countries.

'We need to make a stand that personal information should be protected.'

Criminal lawyer Mark Goh said there were some hurdles to overcome when 
dealing with garbage ownership.

Said Mr Goh: 'Information can be confidential and must be separated from 
the physical piece of paper.

'So a person can argue that while he threw away the piece of paper 
because he did not want it anymore, he can also argue that the 
information contained on that piece of paper was confidential and he did 
not intend to give it away.

'So, the confidential information would still be his property.

'If I deliberately shred a piece of paper, that indicates I treat the 
information as confidential and want to deny public access to it.

'But if you retrieve it and piece it back together, how can you argue 
that it was in the public domain?'


Mr Martin Kenney, one of more than 4,000 participants from 120 countries 
at the IBA Conference, said in Monday's session on business intelligence 
and industrial espionage, that for 18 months, his law firm monitored a 
fraud suspect's movements at home.

He said his clients had accused the man in Florida of owing them US$21.9 
million ($32m), which he had borrowed in a business deal.

He was also found to be involved in Medicare (a medical insurance 
programme for the elderly) fraud and was made a bankrupt.

Before Mr Kenney's agents began the sting operation, they had to make 
sure taking the man's trash was allowed there.

He said: 'We had to make sure it was not illegal in the state of 

'It wasn't. It was by the side of a public road.

'As long as the trash was outside the person's property, it was 
considered 'abandoned property'.'

He said they found documents from the man's lawyers and other 
incriminating information showing he had had an elaborate plan to 
conceal his assets.

A settlement was reached, but Mr Kenney said he could not reveal its 

THE question was posed last month in a case before Chief Justice Chan 
Sek Keong.

* Creditors who use private investigators to sift through debtor's bin 
  want to use it against debtor in court.

* High Court judge Andrew Ang says improper and/or illegal to do this, 
  in February last year. Rules against creditors, but they appeal.

* CJ Chan says during appeal hearing last month that this is a serious 
  issue as people often leave their trash bins outside their homes. CJ 
  Chan allows appeal, says issue of who owns garbage should be decided 
  in separate trial.

Copyright =C2=A9 2005 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Co.

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