How far is too far with respect to court cases and cell phone data (ex. Records, texts, pictures, content)? Should cell phone data be limited to certain types of cases?

Prescott Valley, AZ Correspondent- Cell phone data and court cases appear to be linked in the world of instantaneous reporting of almost every event taking place across the country. Strong visuals and video activity as well as texts, phone conversations, records and other content can reveal considerable evidence, but whether a court case should be solely based on cell phone data is another question.

In June 2014, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled in a case that involved searching and obtaining cell phone information in reference to making arrests. They ruled that immediately searching and seizing a cell phone and the information on it does not extend to cell phones, and police need to obtain a warrant in order to search an arrested person’s phone. Additionally, the court ruled that with cell phone searches there is no threat of safety of maintaining evidence as digital data is not harmful to arresting police officers, plus there is little likelihood of a phone being wiped of data before a warrant is obtained.

Though the court’s ruling did uphold some privacy rights of individual citizens, it may not have completely covered cell phone privacy rights concerning what police and other law enforcement officials are allowed to do concerning confiscating phones. Clear and concise instructions were not spelled out by the court as to the limitations put on law enforcement officials as to what can and cannot be allowed concerning cell phone search warrants and how they are conducted. A warrant has to precisely describe places to be searched and specific items to be confiscated.

Where evidence is clear cut and pictures, videos and conversations are concise as to the occurrence of a crime, cell phone information should be allowed to be used in court once a warrant has been granted. When personal cell phone information that does not affect a case is used to trap a person or to attempt to connect an innocent person to a crime, it should not be admissible in court.

Cell phone data should be limited to certain types of cases along with physical evidence to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt. Regular crime scene evidence gathered after a crime along with mobile phone records should be admitted into evidence in situations that involve domestic terror and serial killings, incidents of domestic abuse, family related murders, bank robberies, rapes and similar crimes that are heinous in nature.

In fact, a recent domestic dispute between a man and a woman in the Philadelphia area, which resulted in the shotgun death of the woman, was recorded on the woman’s phone. She activated a voice recording mechanism on her phone and the final argument was recorded all the way though the interaction between the two, her murder, and the arrival of the police. The argument was heard, as was the gun blast and the man’s remarks while shooting her.

With this kind of evidence, there is no doubt that the conversation will probably be brought into play in the courtroom and be admitted as evidence in the case, particularly since the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania changed its wiretap act in 2012 to allow for certain kinds of phone evidence.

Though the Supreme Court’s ruling did uphold Fourth Amendment rights of protection against unreasonable searches and seizures, it did come up short with how a search warrant should be viewed and acted upon by police. The leeway on police confiscating a phone and searching for evidence on it was somehow neglected. A happy medium has to be met as to how to maintain Fourth Amendment rights, privacy interests and the intent of law enforcement to solve crimes.

If laws are balanced between what kind of cell phone information can be obtained through a search warrant and how law enforcement reacts with the information obtained, then cell phone information should be released, made available, and allowed to go forward as evidence in court cases.

Gastonia, NC Correspondent– The question of accessing cellphone data for criminal cases is a thorny one, with fears of government overreach bumping up against the honest desire of investigators to have access to all potentially incriminating evidence in a criminal proceeding. I have always been of a “law and order” mindset, so for me the issue is somewhat simpler.

If a local, state or federal prosecutor has enough reasonable suspicion to get a search warrant for the suspect’s cellphone, computer, tablet or other electronic device, then the data within that device should be subject to inspection. Companies which may be able to assist in the decryption of these devices should be compelled to do so (with proper compensation for time and effort) or face civil and criminal penalties of their own. Just as with any search warrant, the wording should be specific enough that any ancillary data collected (say, mention of drug use when the case is murder) should not be admissible in court, or used for any further prosecution.

An exception to that ancillary rule should be made for matters of national security. If a drug trafficker’s phone yields information that funds from the sale of the drugs are being used to buy missiles for a terrorist organization to bring down U.S. planes, that should be shared with the appropriate federal authorities. I don’t want hundreds of American lives lost because some drug runner’s text to ISIS was deemed “privileged” or “excluded” communication.

Of course there will be questions of abuse, and I have no doubt that at some point some corrupt law enforcement or prosecutorial entity will misuse these search permissions for their own gain, but is that any different from what happens now? Bad apples crop up, and are more often than not found out and properly punished. I think that’s a small price to pay to gain access to what could well be a treasure trove of information about illicit goings-on.

Owatonna, MN Correspondent- When the Founding Fathers created the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights, they could not have imagined what sort of society the United States would be more than two centuries later. They were wisely ambiguous when it came to crafting the language of those two documents in order to remain flexible on unknowable technological advances while remaining quite specific on the details of what constitutes a person’s inalienable rights.

I’ve long been in favor of classifying whatever a person does in public as fair game for law enforcement. However, I will go to my grave insisting any data generated in a private manner such as letters, cell phone records, emails, text messages, or photographs that are originally intended for private use should be strictly protected by the Constitution. It doesn’t matter that an individual privately communicates in a text message to another private individual his intention to commit an act of terrorism. Until the individual releases that text message to the public (for example, sending that text message to a government official in the building he wants to blow up), or demonstrates some other behavior that indicates probable cause to law enforcement, that text message should remain private property and protected by the Fourth Amendment.

Since cell phones are merely more technologically sophisticated telephones, the rules that apply to wiretapping of telephones for suspected criminal cases should apply exactly the same to cell phones and their related output such as calling records, text messages, contents, or photographs. After all, a text message is merely a communication by phone that happens to be non-verbal.

Probable cause of criminal activity must be demonstrated to a judge by law enforcement officials and a warrant must be obtained for permission to search an individual’s cell phone and related material. Even though it is so easy to track, monitor, and collect information in the age of computers, ease of access to private information is no excuse to allow increased surveillance of the general public without going through constitutional channels and procedures.

Sheffield, Jamaica Correspondent- Though small, privacy is a strong word. In light of the Apple saga, that point was highly cemented, as Apple went to lengths to conceal or protect their customers’ privacy; They had all rights to. To continuously net information on civilians, police officers maintain that this is necessary, as they’re able to solve crimes, track abducted people and terrorists. Police officers ‘claim’ they have such rights to use information in court cases, do they? How far is too far with respects to using cell phone data in court cases? Should cell phone data be limited to certain types of cases?

I strongly believe cell phone data can be ascertained and used in some cases, as this has proven effective in solving crimes over the years.

A case in point: A 10 year old girl went missing in 2012 of October from Colorado. To decipher what had happened to the victim, the police had to make a strong decision. They got a court order to access cell phone data connected to five provider towers. If not for that act, the police would not have been able to solve that case. So yes, I believe in some instances, the police should acquire cell phone data, including texts, pictures, content, records and others. However, this should be done in limited cases and with discretion. Police officers should not snoop on people, especially when they’re not targets in a case.

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