Cell Phone Monitoring; Catching Criminals Vs. Invasion of Privacy

With the advancement in cell phone technology, law enforcement authorities are flexing their muscles to get required information to track down wanted criminals. Police deploy various tactics and strategies to solve crimes ranging from iCrimes to more heinous ones involving threat to life. They use traditional practice of following the criminals to tracking them down through technological device. Cell phone tracking has become a common practice in investigations and legal matters – used to find evidence against the suspects or cracking down on criminals. But the rampant use of cell phone monitoring software has raised valid concerns about the privacy issues. To make matters even worse, it’s been apparent for some time that the laws governing how police may obtain personal digital data have not kept up with the times.

Almost everyone now carries a cell phone to keep in touch. But the devices can also pinpoint where you are. If you dial 911, emergency workers can find you — even if you can’t tell them where you are — based on which cell phone towers your phone uses. Some people said they were surprised to learn that the FBI and other agencies can get that information from cell phone companies.

Finding Leads in a Homicide Case

The use of cell phone tracking gained momentum in 2011 when Wilmington police captured two suspects of a homicide case. Melvin Wright and Omar Mitchell were wanted in robbery and shooting case in Wilmington. The suspects shot to death Esam Al-Haidairi during a robbery. In absence of any evidence police tracked the cell phone records of the two suspects, which revealed their heinous crime.

Police reports revealed that they found a cigar box with Wright’s fingerprints on it. Police already had his cell phone number in their records, because of his involvement in another crime – leading this to filing of a subpoena with the cell carrier. The investigations into the call and text record of the cell phone revealed the presence of Wright in the vicinity of the crime scene at time of the robbery and murder. Information obtained from the text messages of Wright’s phone proved Mitchell’s involvement in the crime.

Having acquired enough evidence, police obtained a search warrant to search the residences of the suspects – which provided them with more evidence of their involvement in the crime.

‘Probable Cause’ Standard

The notion of importance of privacy versus crime control is based on the ‘probable cause’ standard. Police is not allowed to trace cell phone records on a whim or weak evidence. There has to be a valid reason or probable cause to access suspect’s cell phone data.

In the aforementioned case, the data was obtained without any probable cause, as there was reasonable suspicion and evidence available to the police. This helped them perform their task quicker and more efficiently.

The catch in this story is police may have been refused the permission to obtain suspects’ call records, had they gone for probable cause – meaning that the two suspects would have gone Scott free despite all the evidence.

This explains the need of cell phone data and its importance for criminal cases.

Is Invasion of Privacy Justifiable?

Law enforcement tracking of cellphones, once the province mainly of federal agents, has become a powerful and widely used surveillance tool for local police officials, with hundreds of departments, large and small, often using it aggressively with little or no court oversight, documents show. The Government’s unrestrained power to assemble data that reveal private aspects of identity is susceptible to abuse.

The question rises, what situation allows the police to get hold of the cell phone records? The fact that most of modern day smartphones use location-based geo-social apps, makes it even easier for them to be tracked. The matter of privacy invasion has created waves in the spectrum of technology – leading to debate of privacy policy and rights of police to access to cell phone records. The balance needs to be found between the two to control the rate of crime by keeping the privacy issues at bay.

Author Bio: Natalia David, an author significantly contributes towards PC security Software, monitoring software for cell phone (buy now) and iPhone monitoring software. If you want to know more about Natalia you can follow her on twitter @NataliaDavid4

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