Digital technology has given us many benefits, but it has also eaten away at our privacy. In some ways, we all view this as a tradeoff: We get the benefits of smartphones and social media, and in return we let corporations use the data we reveal about our locations and interests.
Most of the time, we don’t think too much about the ways we give up our privacy with technology, but it can have important legal repercussions.
Search warrants and probable cause
The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects everyone from “unreasonable” searches. Generally, courts interpret this to mean that the police must have a warrant to search a person’s home, or another place where they have a reasonable expectation of privacy.
To get a warrant, police must convince a judge that they have probable cause to believe that if they search the premises they will find evidence of a crime. To show that they have probable cause, they submit an affidavit that provides justification for their belief.
Typically, the affidavit will include observations from investigators. For instance, if police saw suspected drug traffickers carrying packages into a home, this might lead them to believe that when they search the home, they will find illegal drugs.
New means of investigation
With new technology comes new ways of investigating suspected criminal behavior. One hundred years ago, when the telephone was still a fairly new invention, police started tapping the phone lines of suspects as a way of gathering evidence. Eventually, the Supreme Court ruled that police need a warrant to tap a person’s phone.
Over the years, courts have had to reckon with many new technologies in this way. For instance, the Supreme Court has ruled that police generally need a warrant to look through a person’s smartphone.
But technology advances much more quickly than the law does, and police are always coming up with new ways to observe suspects.
Skilled criminal defense attorneys keep up with these changes in technology and the law so that they can help their clients defend their rights.