Can Salt Lake City Police Remotely Access Your Phone?

In our age of the smartphone, privacy rights have come under increased scrutiny, especially as it relates to law enforcement accessing our personal data. Technological advancements have given the police the ability to hack into our cell phones remotely to access our location information, text messages and email, search histories, and more without ever having physical control over the device. For many years, the police used this technology unchecked and were able to get around warrant requirements by accessing our data through third-party service providers, but recent changes in the law have curtailed their ability to do so. Our experienced Salt Lake City criminal defense attorneys at Overson & Bugden will walk you through the ways police can access your phone and its data remotely, when a warrant is required, and how you can fight back if your rights have been disregarded.

How Are Police Able to Remotely Access My Cell Phone in Salt Lake City?

There is virtually no limit to the ways police are able to access the data on your phone if they have the technological means to do so. Although it is always smart to safeguard your devices through password protection, encryption, and other means, many advanced tools are able to get around these types of protection. Some police bureaus now have technology that can be used not only to remotely access your phone, but also to take control of the phone and snap pictures or record conversations at will.

One of the most common ways the police remotely access people’s cell phones is by the use of a device known as a “stingray.” A stingray is used to spoof, or mimic, the local cell tower. Phones are then tricked into sending location and tracking information to the stingray device. The police can use this information to track your movements when you have your cell phone on you as well as to monitor any incoming or outgoing calls.

Another way police access your data is through third-party providers. Under precedent set by a 1970s U.S. Supreme Court case, police are legally permitted to request data and other information from third parties who you have voluntarily surrendered this information to. At the time, the implications of this ruling were limited. Despite the fact that, in today’s digital age, we frequently turn over our personal data to internet service providers, cell phone service providers, social media sites, and apps, often without even realizing what we are agreeing to, the federal government still follows this precedent. This means that, if the FBI wants to request any of your digital information from your cell phone company, they do not need a warrant, and there is nothing you can do to stop the company from releasing this data if they so choose.

Cell Phone Data Privacy Laws for Salt Lake City Residents

In recent years, there have been calls by many civil liberties groups to end the third-party doctrine and require the police to get a warrant to access your personal data stored with these companies. In 2019, Utah became the first state to act on these calls by passing the Electronic Information or Data Privacy Act. Under this act, police are required to get a warrant in order to access data that you have turned over to your cell phone provider or another such company. They also cannot access information stored on the “cloud” without a warrant.

Coupled with existing Utah laws regarding remotely tracking your location via your cell phone, this new law has essentially made it a requirement that police get a warrant if they want to remotely access your cell phone or the data or location information stored on it. The new law also banned the use of stingray devices without a warrant. Utah has quickly become the leading state in the nation when it comes to protecting your digital privacy.

There are exceptions under this law, however, if exigent circumstances exist such that the data or location information is needed immediately. If there is imminent risk to an individual of death, serious physical injury, sexual abuse, live-streamed sexual exploitation, kidnapping, or human trafficking, the police do not need a warrant to access a phone or request third-party data. Furthermore, if a remote computing service inadvertently discovers information related to the commission of a felony, or of a misdemeanor involving physical violence, sexual abuse, or dishonesty, the police can use this information without having a warrant.

Fighting Improper Searches of Your Cell Phone Data in Salt Lake City

Although Utah has passed a law making it pretty plain that the police must get a warrant in order to access digital information stored on a cell phone, officers often ignore this law and access the data anyway in the hopes that you won’t know your rights or challenge their authority. An experienced Salt Lake City illegal search and seizure attorney like those at Overson & Bugden will know how to fight against unauthorized searches, such as when police claim there to have been exigent circumstances when there really weren’t any.

A skilled Ogden criminal defense lawyer can file a motion to suppress any evidence obtained as a result of a warrantless search of your phone or a search based on a faulty warrant. Under the “fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine,” if the court finds that a warrant was required or the warrant issued was invalid, they police cannot use any of the data they obtained through their illegal search against you as part of a criminal case.

If Police Have Accessed Data from Your Phone Without Consent, Call Our Salt Lake City Criminal Defense Lawyer

There are many ways police can use modern technology to access your data remotely, but Utah law has made it such that, in most cases, a warrant is required for them to do so. This means that you have rights and protections when it comes to the data stored on your cell phone, even if you have technically turned it over to third parties. At Overson & Bugden, our experienced Utah criminal defense attorneys know how to fight to get evidence obtained through illegal searches of your digital data excluded from any court case. We will aggressively argue on behalf of your right to digital privacy. Call us today at (801) 758-2287 for a free consultation.