Law enforcement agencies, including FBI and the local sheriff use various methods and strategies to spy on individuals whom they suspect are committing crimes. Most of the methods used to spy on these individuals is with the help of digital trails these people create every day.
You might think that this is a violation of the privacy of an individual and that such a search cannot take place without a warrant from a judge. However, the thing to note is that there are plenty of legal ways for law enforcement to snoop on digital trails created by individuals. For example, they can obtain your personal emails from Google with the help of a subpoena. The person being spied on is not even notified. Similarly, they may also contact AT&T to obtain your text messages. Police can also use other methods to track you without a warrant. Some of these methods are listed below:
Access to your phone records
Police can get courts to sign off on a subpoena to access your phone records. In order to obtain a subpoena, law enforcement must show the data they are searching for is relevant to a criminal investigation. Once the court has issued the order, police can get phone records without a warrant. Going through a list of phone numbers is not considered an unreasonable search and seizure.
Tracking your location
A lot of cellphone carriers provide authorities with the location of a customer’s phone for a small fee. They track the exact location of a person’s phone using cell towers, or they can use the GPS feature available in most smartphones. In 2011 alone, major cell carriers responded to more than 1.3 million requests from law enforcement for cellphone locations.
IP addresses on computers
Email providers such as Yahoo and Google collect huge amounts of data that give the location of email users through their IP addresses. A warrant is not needed to access the IP address of an individual, but it is needed if police wish to actually access the emails of an individual.
Access to emails
Law enforcement will need a warrant to be able to access your recent emails. However, they can obtain access to older emails with only a subpoena. In the first half of 2012 alone, Google received 7,969 requests for email data. Other email providers also receive thousands of subpoenas for email information.
Access to email drafts
Accessing draft emails is easier for investigators than getting access to recently sent emails. Stored electronic data, including emails and texts, are protected under the law, but there is less protection for email drafts.
Mobile text messages
In order to access cellphone text messages, investigators only need to subpoena the information. After obtaining a subpoena, law enforcement can obtain access to text messages more than 180 days old. The cell provider charges a small amount no more than $50 to provide these text messages.
Social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn have privacy policies in place to handle personal data of their users. Although they require a warrant to give away sensitive data, some of the data is readily and openly available for law enforcement, including basic information.
Law enforcement may follow other methods to gain access to private data of individuals and to spy on them without a warrant. If you suspect you may be under investigation for a crime, you should immediately seek help from an experienced criminal defense attorney.