Is your smart phone safe from police intrusion?

If you’re like most people, details of your entire life can be found on your smartphone. In addition to the pictures you take and texts/emails you send, anyone with access to your phone might also be able to access your banking information, who you’ve been in contact with and where you’ve traveled recently (based on GPS location data collected by apps on your phone), just to name a few examples.

Because our phones contain such a wealth of personal information, smartphone manufacturers allow users to protect their phones using encryption and sophisticated passcodes. But this information can be hacked with the right equipment, and you may be surprised to learn that such technology is increasingly being utilized by law enforcement. According to recent nationwide report about police technology, more than 2,000 law enforcement agencies across the United States have access to mobile device forensic tools, or MDFTs.

All manner of offenses investigated

In the case of someone suspected of terrorism or serial murder, most Americans might reluctantly approve of law enforcement using MDFTs to solve the case. But in many cases, police are using MDFTs to investigate low-level offenses like drug possession, vandalism, shoplifting, graffiti, public intoxication and parole violations. Given just how serious it is for police to gain access to sensitive personal information, should we really allow it to be used in such frivolous ways?

The legality of phone searches and MDFT use

It is unclear just how often phones are being hacked with a warrant vs. without one. Certainly, in the past six years, the United States Supreme Court has issued at least two major rulings affirming the requirement to obtain a warrant before searching a suspect’s cellphone or obtaining cellphone location data. But because technology evolves faster than the laws (and court rulings) that regulate it, there are likely numerous ways to get around these restrictions.

Because technology is always evolving, the legal issues around digital privacy and law enforcement search and seizure are far from settled. Some law enforcement agencies exploit these gray areas to bypass the need for warrants and proper procedure.

You may be able to challenge the evidence

If you are currently facing charges related to drugs, weapons, property crime or an array of other offenses, it is possible that police used information obtained from your cellphone to build a case against you. You have the right to know what evidence they have and how they obtained it. With the help of an experienced criminal defense lawyer, you may be able to challenge the evidence in your case. If it was obtained without a warrant or otherwise illegally, you can file a motion to suppress that evidence (meaning it cannot be used in court).

You cannot afford to be passive in your own criminal case. Working with a smart, aggressive attorney is the best way to protect your rights and your freedom.