According to estimates from the Pew Research Center, nine out of ten American adults own a cell phone. Some two-thirds of them are smartphones with the ability to run many of the same functions of a desktop computer with the added convenience of local and global positioning systems. In June 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized the privacy concerns present with such devices and ruled that law enforcement must obtain a warrant before conducting a search of a suspect’s cellphone. The line, however, is a more unclear when it comes to using cellphone data in a criminal investigation, as highlighted in a recent ruling by a Connecticut Superior Court judge.
In 2005, the Connecticut state legislature quietly passed a law that allows law enforcement to access the cell phone records of citizens without necessarily requiring a warrant. Throughout the last decade, police have obtained more than 14,000 orders to access records, many of which permitted police to read the content of text messages and track the phone’s location, according to David McGuire, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Connecticut. He also indicated that the law requires that the owner of the phone be notified when his or her data is accessed, but that the requirement seems to be often ignored.
Every Ten Minutes
The recent Superior Court ruling involved a defendant who was charged with robbing automated teller machines in 2010. While police were tracking the man, his mobile service carrier was ordered to provide locational “pings” to police every ten minutes. New Haven Superior Judge Jon Blue ruled last month that such an order went too far and suppressed the evidence obtained as a result. Judge Blue acknowledged the convenience and prevalence of cellphones but observed that “with this convenience comes the possibility of Orwellian state,” referring to the Big Brother-type oversight of 1984. The judge also held the opinion that the legislature did not intend to allow tracking or the invasion of privacy without a warrant when the law was written.
Under the current law, a judge can order the release of some cellphone-related data as long as there is “reasonable or articulable suspicion” of criminal activity. McGuire said that the ACLU would like to see the law amended to require “probable cause,” which is a higher standard, and possibly warrants for the release of information. The organization believes that Judge Blue’s ruling could be a “game changer” and is an important step toward securing the privacy rights of Connecticut citizens.
If you have been charged with a crime, and you believe that your cellphone data was used improperly by law enforcement, you need the assistance of an experienced Hartford criminal defense attorney. Our team of dedicated legal professionals will help you ensure that your rights have not been and will not be compromised along the way. Call [[phone1]] to schedule a confidential consultation at the Woolf Law Firm, LLC.