Can the Police Access Your Cell Phone Data?
What are your privacy rights when it comes to mobile data and cell phone tracking information?
Now that everyone owns a mobile device, it is very easy to for cell phone companies to track real time location, even if calls were not being made. They can also easily determine where and when calls and texts were made and the length of each call or text.
The question is, are they obligated to turn over this information to the police? And the answer is … it depends.
Generally, the police need a search warrant and probable cause in order to obtain tracking information from cell phone companies, like Verizon and ATT. They also need a search warrant to access data on your cell phone.
In the Commonwealth vs. Fulton, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled “that accessing any information from a cell phone without a warrant” violates the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
Federal law has dictated the same. In 2018, Carpenter vs. The United States, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling that the government violates the Fourth Amendment by obtaining Cell Site Location Information (CSLI) records containing physical locations of cell phones without a search warrant.
Your Right to Privacy and Cell Phone Tracking Data
Even though the police cannot access information on your cell phone without a search warrant, they still may be able to seize your mobile phone during an arrest.
If you are asked by a law enforcement official to be given access to your phone, ask if they have a warrant. If they say they have a warrant, ask to see it, as you have a right to see the warrant before granting access.
If you voluntarily grant access to your cell phone data, this data could be admissible in court.
While you do have to grant access to your mobile data if there is a search warrant, and the police can use facial recognition or fingerprint to unlock your phone, you do not have to unlock it via a passcode or pattern lock. This is in violation of the 5th amendment rights to not incriminate yourself.
In order to protect your privacy rights, always keep a passcode lock on your phone. However, the only way to avoid your mobile data tracking from being turned over to the police is to turn off your cell phone completely and remove the battery, if possible.
If you have been charged with a crime and are worried about police gaining access to your mobile data, you should ask to speak with a criminal lawyer.
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