On May 31, 2016, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals gave law enforcement a power it’s sought for years. Thanks to this breakthrough ruling, detectives who want to track your cellphone’s location will no longer require a warrant to do it. This win for the crime fighters delivers a solid punch in the gut to those who advocate for a U.S. citizen’s right to privacy under the Fourth Amendment.
Although most people never stop to think about it, the phone in your pocket can tell the police where you’ve been, when you arrived and what you’ve been telling your friends. If you should find yourself under investigation, this is quite likely to matter.
How Your Cellphone Gives You Away Your Location
When it comes to keeping a secret, few things are worse than cellphones. Although you may think that your calls, texts and surfing style are private and protected, nothing could be further from the truth. Even when sitting quietly in your pocket, your phone continually pings the nearest tower, keeping itself at the ready in case you feel the need to access your network. These pings do more than simply enable communication. They also telegraph your location, allowing law enforcement to follow your moves as you travel about in real time.
The pings are not the only things giving you away. Your phone’s GPS capability does this equally well. In fact, if you’ve loaded a find-my-phone app, anyone with access can map its location in a hurry.
Tracking Your Whereabouts After the Fact
As useful as live cellphone tracking can be, the historical variety is far more commonplace. It relies on the fact that every cell tower covers a radius of only about 1 mile. A check of any cellphone’s call records will show not only which tower it pinged at any given moment but also what sector of its covered expanse came into play at the time. Now, a new technology known as per-call measurement capability allows investigators to pinpoint within one-tenth of a mile the cellphone’s distance from the tower as well as its location in the corresponding sector.
These records don’t remain available for long. Most carriers discard them after 14 days or less. If you feel that they can prove your innocence, a proactive criminal defense attorney can often obtain this information in a hurry even before you’ve been formally charged.
Defenses Against Cellphone Tower Tracking
Historical tower tracking does have its flaws. An inability to more precisely narrow down a location is probably the most obvious. Another weak spot has to do with a call’s duration. If you’re driving your car for two hours and talking on the phone for that entire time, the records will normally show nothing more than the tower at which you started the call and the one at which you hung up. Although data from the towers in between could prove to be vitally important, they might yield no information whatsoever.
Perhaps the biggest problem with historical tower tracking lies in the fact that cell phone towers can and do break down. When this happens, the carrier will rarely drop your call. The malfunctioning site will instead bounce your call to another tower, making it appear to anyone who cares that at that moment, your phone was someplace other than its actual location. This is why for any particular tower that might have played a role, repair and maintenance records can tell an invaluable tale. The tower’s orientation also matters. If it happens to point in the wrong direction, a phone’s location data can mislead as well.
When Your Cellphone Pictures Give You Away
Although almost everyone nowadays takes cellphone pictures, many people are unaware that these are more than just images. They are actually electronic files, and embedded within your cellphone pictures lie untold quantities of hidden information. Along with such things as your camera’s make, model, focal length and flash mode, each image also reveals the date, the time and the GPS coordinates of your phone at the moment you snapped the shutter. Whether you save the picture, upload it to Facebook or email it to friends, this information goes right along with it, and a glance at the file’s properties will speak volumes to anyone who cares enough to look.
Cellphone Records and Your Criminal Defense
If you are under criminal investigation, your cell phone records could easily come into question. It’s important to realize that while they might hurt your case, they can also help it. Now that it is legal for law enforcement to conduct this type of investigation, you need the assistance of a criminal defense lawyer who understands these ruling changes and can use your cellphone history to aid in your defense.
The attorneys at Weiner Law Group realize the importance of learning the contents of cell tower records as soon as we possibly can. Although they may fail to pinpoint a cellphone’s precise location, the information they contain can play a valuable role in mounting your defense. Don’t wait until it’s too late to obtain these records. Schedule a consultation with Weiner Law today at 702-202-0500.