When Ray Andrus’ 91-year-old father gave federal agents permission to search his son’s password-protected computer files and they found child pornography, the case turned a spotlight on how appellate courts grapple with third-party consents to search computers.

With an increasing number of criminal cases depending on forensic computer searches, the direction courts ultimately take is likely to affect a wide array of criminal cases, ranging from hacking and piracy to murder investigations, according to Orin Kerr, a George Washington University Law Center professor specializing in computer crime law.