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East Hartford criminal defense attorney for electronic evidenceIn the 21st century, we live in a digital world, and this means that the regular use of computers and other electronic devices leaves a trail of data about a person’s location and activities. In many cases, the collection of data is harmless, and it can even be beneficial, such as when apps are used to track information about a person’s diet and provide recommendations about how they can improve their health. Unfortunately, many people do not realize just how much information about themselves they are sharing and who can access this information. Those who are facing criminal charges should be aware of what types of data could potentially be accessed by law enforcement and how this information could be used as evidence in their case.

Types of Data That May Play a Role in Criminal Cases

In recent years, law enforcement officials have expanded their efforts to obtain information that can be used to identify potential criminal suspects, investigate their whereabouts and activities, and determine whether they have probable cause to arrest a person and charge them with a crime. These investigations may involve information from many different sources, including:

  • Cell phones - The data stored on a person’s smartphone can be used to verify their location, movements, and activities and the people they called or sent messages to. However, even if law enforcement is unable to directly access a person’s phone, they may be able to use other methods to gather information that could be used in a case. Officials may request “tower dumps” that list all of the phones that connected to a cell phone tower during a certain period of time, or they may receive other records from cell phone companies or mobile apps, and they have tools that allow them to analyze this data and track individual users’ locations and the people they have communicated with.

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Connecticut criminal defense attorney for digital evidenceThe Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states that all citizens have the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures by the government without a warrant. This provides protection against unfair tactics by prosecutors when a person is facing criminal charges. However, in the 21st century, the increased use of digital media has resulted in a slew of complexities in criminal cases. The Fourth Amendment was written to protect the privacy of American citizens, but what happens when your private digital files are no longer private to only you? In some cases, the “private search doctrine” may apply.

What Is the Private Search Doctrine?

Using the private search doctrine, once a private party (who is not involved with the government) has already done an initial search, the government can repeat that search without infringing upon the property owner’s individual Fourth Amendment rights. Basically, the private search doctrine allows the government to perform a search that is not technically a search in the Constitutional sense.

A Recent North Carolina Case Sparks Controversy

In 2014, a North Carolina woman was looking for a photograph on her boyfriend’s USB thumb drive. While she was clicking through folders and subfolders on the drive, she came across a partially-nude photo of her nine-year-old granddaughter. Upset, she stopped her search and informed her daughter of the photo. The pair took the thumb drive to the police station, where a detective began to look through the folders to find the photo the woman was referring to. While the detective was looking, he saw other photos that he thought might be child pornography. Once he found the photo of the woman’s granddaughter, he stopped his search and obtained a warrant to search the thumb drive for photos of child pornography.

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