The recent uproar over personal information on Facebook and its use by, now notorious, British company Cambridge Analytica was a firm reminder that devices, apps, web browsers, and email servers are stockpiling our digital data. However, politicians and marketers aren’t the only entities that consider your personal information valuable.
During an investigation, law enforcement and prosecutors look to electronic devices and the massive amount of digital data stored there to built a case. In particular, cell phones are a significant source of personal data and history – a fact that is aiding the police and landing people in New York jail every day.
A Manhattan criminal defense lawyer meets with clients each week who were arrested and charged with murder, assault, theft, and white-collar crime because of information on a cell phone or other electronic device. This leads to the question: how does law enforcement access the information on your phone and how can they use it in a criminal case?
As you post on Facebook and tweet on Twitter, you build an extensive digital history for your network to follow. And an estimated 91% of New Yorkers are using some form of social media. Often, this digital data is used as intended; it allows us to connect, reach, and interact with friends, family, acquaintances, and perfect strangers in a new way. However, the digital timeline and data created by these public posts, messages, updates, and location check-ins can be used in a criminal trial.
What you put online could be used to establish your whereabouts at a given time, relationship and interaction with a victim, mindset, and even motive to commit a crime. In certain instances, Facebook posts and private messages on social media were the crime (we blogged about here). Plus, if you think deleting information is going to stop New York law enforcement from uncovering the digital data, it is unlikely. Most social media companies store your data long after a post is deleted or picture was taken offline, and an appropriate search warrant could uncover the information.
Another huge source of information and digital data is stored directly on your cell phone. Every day New Yorkers are using smartphones to make phone calls and send texts. This communication leaves digital breadcrumbs that can often be collected by the police, including through a subpoena to your cellular provider.
A Manhattan criminal defense lawyer needs a robust strategy to rebuke information from a call history or message exchange, as law enforcement can learn the location, duration, and the number you contacted. Of course, all of this is nothing new for criminal cases. Law enforcement and courts have compiled phone records for years, but the NYPD has introduced more recent technology to catch perpetrators of sexual offenses, robbery, and other crimes in New York.
It isn’t just your Facebook updates and texts that New York law enforcement utilize, your phone can be used to track location and movements. The NYPD and other law enforcement have new tools and new challenges for a Manhattan criminal defense lawyer, defendant, and the criminal justice system.
In recent years, the NYPD has started to use highly technical, tracking tools called StingRays. The technology forces cell phones in a given area to disconnect from the usual service provider, and instead, connect to this single device. Thus, giving the NYPD, or other law enforcement agency, access to the GPS on the cell phone. The cell phone user wouldn’t receive a warning or otherwise know that this switch in service occurred.
The broad use of these devices is questioned by New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) and thrown out as evidence in certain criminal courts. There is ample indication that the NYPD has utilized the StingRay without a warrant in the past, but in November 2017, a Brooklyn judge ruled that a probable-cause warrant was needed for evidence collected from the StingRay to be admissible in court. With a warrant from a New York judge, the StingRay can be used to find, track, and monitor cell phones.
You can talk with a Manhattan criminal defense lawyer about the use of digital data, social media content, and other information on your electronic devices. At Greco Neyland, we are ready to answer these questions, and others you may have about a criminal case in New York. Contact our office at 212-951-1300.
The information in this blog post (“Post”) is provided for general informational purposes only. This Post may not reflect the current law in your jurisdiction. No information contained in this Post should be construed as legal advice from Greco Neyland Attorneys at Law or the individual author, nor is it intended to be a substitute for legal counsel on any subject matter.