Notra Trulock served as Director of the Office of Intelligence of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) from 1994 to 1998. During those years, Trulock claimed to have uncovered evidence that Chinese spies had infiltrated U.S. weapons facilities and that the White House, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had ignored his warnings about the espionage.
Trulock testified before congressional committees on this subject and, after he no longer worked for the DOE, published a related article that criticized the White House, the FBI, and the CIA. Trulock contended that he did not reveal any classified information in the article. Linda Conrad, a DOE employee, owned a townhouse at which she and Trulock lived. After Trulock had left the DOE, Conrad’s DOE supervisor told her that FBI agents wanted to talk with her about Trulock, that the FBI had a warrant to search her townhouse, and that if she did not cooperate, FBI agents would break down the townhouse’s door while the press observed. Conrad submitted to a three-hour interview by FBI agents, who asked about Trulock’s personal records and computer files. Conrad told the agents that she and Trulock shared a computer, which was located at the townhouse. She also said that she and Trulock maintained separate password-protected files on the computer’s hard drive, and that neither knew the other’s password. At the end of the interview, Conrad signed a form whose terms revealed her supposed consent to a search of the townhouse. The agents said nothing to Conrad about whether they had, or did not have, a search warrant. In fact, they did not have one. The agents searched the townhouse pursuant to Conrad’s supposed consent and without seeking Trulock’s permission. During the search, the agents found the computer Conrad had mentioned. Aided by an FBI computer specialist, an agent examined the computer’s files, including Trulock’s password protected files. In a civil action in which they alleged that the FBI had acted unconstitutionally, Conrad and Trulock contended that their Fourth Amendment rights had been violated. Was Conrad’s supposed consent to the search of the townhouse valid and hence sufficient to defeat her claim of a Fourth Amendment violation? If Conrad legitimately consented to the search, was her consent binding on Trulock with regard to the FBI agents’ (a) search of the townhouse itself, (b) examination of computer files to which both Conrad and Trulock had access, and (c) examination of Trulock’s password-protected computer files?