Can Police Tap Your Phone Without Your Knowledge
Can the police tap your phone or look at your text messages? If youre under investigation by law enforcement, do you still have a right to privacy? In some situations, legal trouble begins long before an accusation occurs. Law enforcement can begin an investigation on you without letting you know.
They have a legal right to watch what you do in public or in plain view in your business or home. But what some may not know is that police are allowed to access your private emails or phone conversations under certain conditions. Although you wont know exactly when the police have begun an investigation into these matters, knowing what they have a right to do can help.
Working With A Criminal Defense Attorney
Criminal charges can have a serious impact on your future. While its common to wait until after youve been charged to contact an attorney, you could be better off talking with one sooner.
If you believe the police are monitoring your phone calls or investigating you, contact a criminal defense attorney as soon as you can. This can ensure that you get the correct answers to your questions and a strong defense, should you need one.
Call the JacksonWhite Criminal Law team at to discuss your case today.
What Is A Dirtbox
A dirtbox is the common name for specific models of an IMSI catcher that are made by a Boeing subsidiary, Maryland-based Digital Receiver Technology hence the name DRT box. They are reportedly used by the DEA and Marshals Service from airplanes to intercept data from mobile phones. A 2014 Wall Street Journal articlerevealed that the Marshals Service began using dirtboxes in Cessna airplanes in 2007. An airborne dirtbox has the ability to collect data on many more phones than a ground-based stingray it can also move more easily and quickly over wide areas. According to the 2006 catalog of surveillance technologies leaked in 2015, models of dirtboxes described in that document can be configured to track up to 10,000 targeted IMSI numbers or phones.
You May Like: How To Obtain A Police Report Online
Carpenter V United States
In the 2018 case Carpenter v. United States, the Supreme Court found that this lower standard did not suffice for a request of a month’s worth of historical CSLI data on a defendant’s phone. The Court held the acquisition of these records constituted a Fourth Amendment search and the police needed to get a probable cause warrant.
This decision was consistent with the trend suggested by recent decisions dealing with the relationship between technology and privacy. The Court had held in 2012 that the police can’t arbitrarily slap a GPS on a car and track the vehicle’s movements , and in 2014, that officers normally need a warrant to search the cellphone of someone they’ve arrested .
Other Methods For Tapping A Phone
Law enforcement may also tap your phone using tap and traces or pen registers, which dont require a wiretap order. These methods dont record actual conversations, only the phone numbers associated with the line. Tap and traces record the phone numbers calling a specific phone line. Pen registers record the phone numbers from outgoing calls.
Don’t Miss: How Do I Check The Status Of My Police Report
Tracking Your Stolen Phone
What Is A Stingray
Stingray is the generic name for an electronic surveillance tool that simulates a cell phone tower in order to force mobile phones and other devices to connect to it instead of to a legitimate cell tower. In doing so, the phone or other device reveals information about itself and its user to the operator of the stingray. Other common names for the tool are cell-site simulator and IMSI catcher.
Read Also: Can You See If Someone Filed A Police Report
Obtaining A Wiretap Order
Can police listen to phone conversations on your landline or cell? Yes, they can potentially listen in on both under certain conditions.
Wiretaps can provide supportive evidence against people suspected of criminal activity. Since its a severe invasion of privacy, though, it comes with strict procedures for law enforcement. Before they can eavesdrop on your conversations, the cops have to obtain something similar to a warrant called a wiretap order.
Since wiretapping is extremely intrusive, a wiretap order is a bit more complicated to obtain than a warrant. The law enforcement officials have to prove probable cause to believe that listening to your conversations will help them with a serious crime. This can include terrorism, money laundering, or drug trafficking.
Police may also seek a warrant to obtain location information through cellphone data.
What Information Can Police Obtain From A Wire Tap
Law enforcement can access your texts and emails by going to your cell service provider or Google with a court order. They dont need to prove probable cause, as they do for a wiretap order, to obtain this order. Lets look a bit closer at the conditions behind the police obtaining information from citizens:
You May Like: How To Be A Reserve Police Officer
Supreme Court Says The Government Needs A Warrant To Obtain Location Data
The Supreme Court disagreed with the lower courts. The Court found that location data is a new phenomenon, but more closely resembles GPS tracking, which a previous case decided requires a warrant. Even though the information is shared with the wireless carrier, people have a right to expect that their every waking movements are not being tracked, catalogued, and shared with police. Cell phones are, at this point, an essential feature of daily life, and our sharing of location data with the wireless companies is necessary for them to function. Moreover, cell phones share data automatically people do not actively click share location data every time they enter a new cell site. For these reasons, the Court found that people do have a reasonable expectation of privacy with regard to cell phone location information, and if the government wishes to obtain that information for use in a criminal proceeding, it must obtain a search warrant by establishing probable cause.
If you are facing criminal charges in southern California, get seasoned, effective and dedicated legal help by contacting the Ventura offices of Paul Tyler for a free consultation at .
This Isnt Your Fathers Cell Phone Surveillance
Anyone whos watched true-crime shows like Forensic Files or listened to the Serial podcast knows that cops can get cell phone location data and figure out at least to some extent where users were and when. Cops have been relying on this kind of technology at least since cell phones become popular in the late 1990s.
This kind of spying can be accomplished via something called a Tower Dump, according to USA Today: Cops can examine phone company data to figure out which cell phones were near specific cell towers at specific times. Then they could try to get more detailed information about individual phones.
The StingRay technology, by contrast, is live: It grabs signals from the airwaves in real time and provides cops with data about all cell phones that transmit in the area by tricking the phones into thinking the StingRay device is a cell tower.
The technology could potentially be used to track people as they move around with their cell phones, even inside private buildings. A device hidden in, say, a police van presumably would only be able to track cell phones in a small area, but U.S. marshals have reportedly deployed the technology in small planes to greatly expand the areas that can be monitored. At least five metro areas have been targeted, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Recommended Reading: How Do You Get A Copy Of A Police Report
Why Are Stingrays And Dirtboxes So Controversial
The devices dont just pick up data about targeted phones. Law enforcement may be tracking a specific phone of a known suspect, but any phone in the vicinity of the stingray that is using the same cellular network as the targeted phone or device will connect to the stingray. Documents in a 2011 criminal case in Canada showed that devices used by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police had a range of a third of a mile, and in just three minutes of use, one device had intercepted 136 different phones.
Depending on how many phones are in the vicinity of a stingray, hundreds could connect to the device and potentially have service disrupted.
Why Should You Care
Both CSS technologies and devices like GrayKey pose their own unique privacy concerns. A GrayKey data extraction, for example, could capture or access data that has nothing to do with any criminal investigation.
The other question, Katz-Lacabe told Wisconsin Examiner, is what do the police do with the data? Do they share it with people? Does that data live on long after the investigation is over, and youre released and found not guilty? Most police departments dont have policies around it.
A further issue is consent, when people allow their phones to be searched, without knowing that all their data is up for grabs. I would suggest that it is an unwise idea for you to ever give permission for the police to search your phone, Katz-Lacabe said.
Cell site simulators are a whole different animal. Katz-Lacabe feels that if used properly, under a warrant and with a judges oversight, they pose fewer problems. But in many cases, he said, search warrants are either not required, or the judges signing off on search warrants dont realize exactly what theyve signed off on. For years, the exact nature of what the police were doing was hidden from the criminal justice system. So even defendants who were charged with some crime based on these pieces of equipment tracking their location were unaware that this was used to track them.
You May Like: Should I Call The Police After A Car Accident
What Can Law Enforcement Do With The Imsi Number
Law enforcement can use a stingray either to identify all of the phones in the vicinity of the stingray or a specific phone, even when the phones are not in use. Law enforcement can then, with a subpoena, ask a phone carrier to provide the customer name and address associated with that number or numbers. They can also obtain a historical log of all of the cell towers a phone has pinged in the recent past to track where it has been, or they can obtain the cell towers its pinging in real time to identify the users current location. By catching multiple IMSI numbers in the vicinity of a stingray, law enforcement can also potentially uncover associations between people by seeing which phones ping the same cell towers around the same time.
If You Refuse To Offer The Password Can Police Still Search Your Cellphone
Yes, even if you refuse to give police the password to your phone, police have ways to get to the information inside. As one man with an extremely well-protected phone found out in a case out of Richmond, police have specialized branches that can crack into the toughest phones.
The case involved two BlackBerry phones that Richmond RCMP sent to the Mounties Technical Crime Branch in Ottawa. Despite not having a warrant to search the phone, the Mounties seized it and spent two years trying to crack one of the phones due to technology restrictions at the time. The RCMP ended up accessing the phone by bypassing the password and creating an exact copy of the devices memory, and the evidence inside was later determined to be admissible in court.
One of the issues raised was whether police were right to send the phone off for a thorough examination at a laboratory and the length of time police spent trying to get inside the phone. After all, seizing the phone and then sending it to a lab is no longer just a simple search by the side of the road. The court, however, determined that police were allowed to take their time to send the phone away to have it analyzed, and said this:
Don’t Miss: How To Find Police Reports By Address
A New Lawsuit Could Shake Loose San Diego Info
Last month, the First Amendment Coalition a California nonprofit devoted to free speech and open government sued the San Diego Police Department and demanded more information about its use of cell phone surveillance technology.
The suit claims that SDPD has denied journalists requests for information about how it uses StingRay devices, and asks the court to compel the city and the police to disclose documents containing information about their possession and use of International Mobile Subscriber Identity Catchers.
Potentially, the lawsuit could turn up details about how the technology is assisting cops. According to Inewsource, the First Amendment Coalition learned that the Los Angeles Police Department used these devices 21 times in a four-month period in 2012 to aid in homicide, kidnapping, suicide, rape, human trafficking, robbery, fugitive and narcotic cases.
Court records indicate that no date has been set for legal proceedings in the lawsuit, which was filed on Dec. 15. The city of San Diego challenged the judge assigned to the case, Richard E. L. Strauss, and the Superior Court transferred the case to Judge Judith Hayes.
Law Enforcement Wants Access To Third
Short answer: Whatever it wants .
Long answer: Depending on what law enforcement is looking for, it may not need physical possession of your device at all. A lot of information on your phone is also stored elsewhere. For example, if you back up your iPhone to Apples iCloud, the government can get it from Apple. If it needs to see whose DMs you slid into, law enforcement can contact Twitter. As long as they go through the proper and established legal channels to get it, police can get their hands on pretty much anything youve stored outside of your device.
You do have some rights here. The Fourth Amendment protects you from illegal search and seizure, and a provision of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 dictates what law enforcement must obtain in order to get the information. It might be a subpoena, court order, or warrant, depending on what its looking for. A section of the ECPA, known as the Stored Communications Act, says that service providers must have those orders before they can give the requested information to law enforcement.
But, assuming the government has the right paperwork, your information is very obtainable.
Basically, anything that a provider has that it can decode, law enforcement is getting it, Jennifer Granick, surveillance and cybersecurity counsel for the ACLUs speech, privacy, and technology project, told Recode.
Recommended Reading: How To Become A Police Officer In Illinois
The Four Conditions For Police To Search Your Cellphone Without A Warrant
1) The arrest must be lawful
2) The search must be truly incidental to the arrest.
This requirement should be strictly applied to permit searches that must be done promptly upon arrest in order to effectively serve the law enforcement purposes. In this context, those purposes are protecting the police, the accused or the public preserving evidence and, if the investigation will be stymied or significantly hampered absent the ability to promptly conduct the search, discovering evidence.
3) The nature and the extent of the search must be tailored to its purpose.
In practice, this will mean that only recently sent or drafted emails, texts, photos and the call log will, generally, be available, although other searches may, in some circumstances, be justified.
4) The police must take detailed notes of what they have examined on the device and how they examine it.
The notes should generally include the applications searched, the extent of the search, the time of the search, its purpose and its duration. The record-keeping requirement is important to the effectiveness of after-the-fact judicial review. It will also help police officers to focus on whether what they are doing in relation to the phone falls squarely within the parameters of a lawful search incident to arrest.
Law Enforcement Wants Access To Personal Data On My Phone Can They Do That
Short answer: If your phone is protected by a passcode or biometric unlocking features, theres a chance police cant gain access to your personal data. But thats not guaranteed.
Long answer: In addition to data hosted by a third party, theres a lot of information that can only be gained from access to your phone. For example, the data in iCloud backups is only as recent as the last time you uploaded it, and it only includes what you choose to give it assuming you back up your phone at all. Encrypted messaging services like WhatsApp dont store messages on their servers or keep track of who is sending them to whom, so the only way for police to access them is through the senders or the receivers device. And as weve explained above, the government can get WhatsApp messages from the person youre communicating with, but only if it knows who it is in the first place.
Essentially, the Fifth Amendment says you cant be compelled to give self-incriminating testimony. Testimony, in this case, is defined as revealing the contents of your own mind. Therefore, civil rights advocates say, the government cant force you to tell them your phones password.
Obviously, a 44-year-old decision over tax papers doesnt take into account how information can be stored today, nor how much.
The EFFs position is that the foregone conclusion exception is very narrow and should never apply in these passcode cases, Crocker said.
Recommended Reading: How Long Before Police Stop Investigating A Hit And Run