In mid-October, a man from Suitland, MD was found to have pornographic images of children on his cell phone. The accused, who used to work as a researcher for the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity – just let that sink in for a minute – has been changed with 6 counts of possession and 5 counts of distribution. The Maryland State Police “said its task force on Internet crimes against children received a tip of a possible distribution of child pornography from a certain Internet address. The tip came from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children,” per the Washington Post.
First of all, I know – we’ve covered the child pornography issue a lot. I’ve talked about the potential fines and penalties, Maryland’s different sexual assault laws, and what kind of trouble you could be facing if you get busted with inappropriate or illegal files on your computer. You can click any of these links and revisit everything I’ve ever said about it.
Today, though, I want to talk about your phone – about that little computer in your pocket. Last summer, the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that “police do not need a search warrant to obtain cell tower location data in Maryland” and “no search warrant is needed to track your cell phone. Just a court order clears the way for police to obtain your cell phone information if it’s needed for an investigation.”
The Court ruled this way because, since our phones are hooked into service providers and social media platforms and games and apps and whatever else we do with them, that data is not protected by the Fourth Amendment: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
The police can use access your phone data without a warrant. This is so crucial, because no matter what it is you’ve been accused of, if the police can obtain a court order, they can review your information. And if they go as far as to get a court order, they don’t give a crap about your Naughty Monster Story score, or whether or not you secretly listen to Nickelback while you’re at the gym. They’re looking for the type of data that will implicate you in a crime, and they have a lot of leeway to get it.
I feel like this should go without saying, but given the headline of this blog, maybe it needs to be said after all: don’t store illegal stuff on your computer, your phone or your tablet. I mean, the better option is to just not do anything illegal or break any crimes, of course. But if you’re in the unenviable position of having done something wrong without even realizing you had, then you need to know that the deck could be stacked against you.
If only you knew a smart, experienced, aggressive Annapolis defense attorney who could help you….
When times seem toughest, just remember: Keep Calm – and Call Drew.