Can the Salt Lake City Police Listen to Your Phone Calls?

Many of us will be familiar with the concept of wiretapping, or police listening in on someone’s phone calls, but few people understand when and how the police are permitted to use this tool. In a time where the federal government has been caught spying on Americans time and again, there are concerns about the whether the police are simply able to listen in on all of your calls, even the most intimate conversations in your life. Furthermore, with the advent of text messaging, emails, and other forms of instant written communication, it can be unclear whether these types of communication are as private as we think they are. In this article, our Salt Lake City criminal defense lawyer at Overson & Bugden will explain when and how the Salt Lake City police can wiretap someone’s phone or intercept their digital communications, and how we can help if you feel your privacy rights have been violated.

How Does Wiretapping Work in Salt Lake City?

Wiretapping involves the police working in concert with the phone company to listen in on your phone calls. Because it is considered a fairly large invasion of privacy, a police officer’s ability to wiretap an individual’s phone lines is subject to the issuance of a wiretap order by a judge. A wiretap order application involves a great deal of information being provided to the judge.

First, the officer must identify themselves and which agency they work for. Next, they must lay out in detail the specific criminal offense that they believe has been committed, is being committed, or will be committed, and why listening in on this individual’s phone calls is likely to lead to evidence of said crime. The officer must state exactly what type of communication they seek to intercept, such as a call between two criminal associates, and the name of the person or people whose calls will be monitored. The application must also detail what other types of less invasive investigative methods have been tried before resorting to a wiretap. Finally, the application must state the time frame for which the order is being requested.

The judge will review the information in the application to determine whether probable cause exists to believe that the wiretap is needed to intercept evidence related to a past, present, or future crime. If the judge grants an order, it will be limited in its scope and come with an expiration date. A copy of the order will be provided to the phone service company, which will be required to comply with the order and assist the officers if necessary. When the order expires, the officers will have to petition for it to be reissued if they want to continue listening in on the phone calls of the individual or individuals.

Police Access to Other Forms of Digital Communication in Salt Lake City

In many ways, wiretapping has become outdated as criminals have become more sophisticated in the way they communicate with one another. No longer is it as common for people to discuss sensitive matters over the phone when there are other, simpler methods of communication such as email and text messaging, as well as secure apps that provide more of a privacy expectation. In most states and under federal law, the police are able to access this type of data through what is known as the “third-party loophole.” In essence, this loophole allows police to obtain your digital data through any third-party service provider without a warrant, because you have voluntarily shared the information with the provider.

In 2019, Utah became the first state in the nation to pass a law closing the third-party loophole. In today’s world, people are all but forced to release their data to internet service providers, search engines, phone companies, and app creators in order to use these services that are part of our everyday lives. Thus, Utah has made it a requirement that police obtain a valid warrant from a judge before accessing data and communications, such as text messages, emails, and messages sent on apps, stored with a third-party provider. For a warrant to be granted, the requesting officer must show that there is probable cause to believe that the digital information sought to be obtained will provide evidence of the commission of a crime.

Challenging Unlawful Use of Wiretapping or Access of Third-Party Data by Police in Salt Lake City

A Salt Lake City search and seizure defense attorney like those at Overson & Bugden can fight to exclude any evidence obtained as a result of an illegal wiretap. A wiretap can be invalid for a variety of reasons, including if no court order was obtained, if false information was used in the application for the court order, or if the officers went outside the scope of the wiretapping authority granted to them by the order. Your lawyer will file a motion to suppress, and, if granted, any evidence obtained through the wiretap will be excluded from being used against you in a criminal proceeding.

A skilled Park City criminal defense attorney can similarly file a motion to suppress any evidence gained from a third-party provider without a warrant. Furthermore, if a warrant was granted, they can challenge the basis for the warrant or whether all the proper procedures were followed by the officer and the judge in its issuance.

Call Our Knowledgeable Team of Salt Lake City Criminal Defense Attorneys About Wiretapping

Privacy rights are taken very seriously in Utah, and police cannot typically access your personal conversations without making an application before a judge based on probable cause. However, this does not mean that officers will not try to use the technology at their disposal in improper ways to produce evidence against you. This is why it is vital to have an experienced Utah criminal defense attorney like those at Overson & Bugden by your side fighting to protect your rights. We will review each case to ensure that proper procedure was followed and will challenge any evidence obtained illegally by filing a motion to suppress. Call our office today at (801) 758-2287 for a free consultation.