The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides all of us with some of our most important protections in the criminal justice system. Among other things, the Fourth Amendment provides that the people should be safe from unreasonable search and seizure.
Essentially, this means that the police must abide by certain restrictions when they arrest people or search their property. However, the courts have argued for generations about how to interpret the meaning of an “unreasonable” search or seizure. Generally, courts say the police must have a warrant to search a person’s home, but courts have also found many exceptions to this requirement.
As new technology enters American life, the courts must sometimes figure out how the Fourth Amendment applies to it. For instance, do the police need a warrant to search a person’s cellphone records for their location data? In 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that they do. If police want to go to a cellphone service provide and search a customer’s location data, they must first obtain a warrant.
More recently, the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups have charged that some law enforcement organizations are getting around this requirement. The ACLU found thousands of records of federal law enforcement agencies including Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement. the U.S. Coast Guard and other organizations searching cellphone location data without warrants. Instead, the ACLU says, the agencies have simply paid for aggregated cellphone data through third-party organizations.
The aggregated data doesn’t always attach a specific cellphone user to a specific location, but the authorities can sometimes use it to track the movements of people they suspect of criminal activity. For instance, they can use it to look at a specific cellphone tower near an area of interest and then see what cellphones bounced their signals off that tower. In this way, they can narrow down their searches and track if certain cellphone users were near that tower at a certain time.
The ACLU has filed a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security to stop this practice.
Protecting your rights
Law enforcement and prosecutors have a lot of tools and resources when they are investigating people and bringing a case against them. If you have been charged with a crime, it can seem overwhelming. Never forget that you have rights. A skilled criminal defense attorney can help you understand your rights and how to defend them.