Can the police tap your phone or look at your text messages? If you’re under investigation by law enforcement, do you still have a right to privacy? In some situations, legal trouble begins long before an accusation occurs. Law enforcement can begin an investigation on you without letting you know. 

They have a legal right to watch what you do in public or in plain view in your business or home. But what some may not know is that police are allowed to access your private emails or phone conversations under certain conditions. Although you won’t know exactly when the police have begun an investigation into these matters, knowing what they have a right to do can help.

Obtaining a Wiretap Order

Can police listen to phone conversations on your landline or cell? Yes, they can potentially listen in on both under certain conditions.

Wiretaps can provide supportive evidence against people suspected of criminal activity. Since it’s a severe invasion of privacy, though, it comes with strict procedures for law enforcement. Before they can eavesdrop on your conversations, the cops have to obtain something similar to a warrant called a wiretap order. 

Since wiretapping is extremely intrusive, a wiretap order is a bit more complicated to obtain than a warrant. The law enforcement officials have to prove probable cause to believe that listening to your conversations will help them with a serious crime. This can include terrorism, money laundering, or drug trafficking.

Police may also seek a warrant to obtain location information through cellphone data.

Restrictions on Wiretapping

Can cell phones be tapped? Yes, but there are usually rules for tapping a phone line, such as restrictions on time so that law enforcement can’t listen indefinitely. The police are also supposed to limit wiretapping to telephone conversations that will probably result in evidence for their case. 

While the law may not listen to ordinary citizens’ phone calls without a wiretap order, this restriction doesn’t apply to prisoners. Incarcerated criminals have far fewer rights to privacy and this includes their calls made from prison. This is one of the reasons why visitors go to see prisoners in person if they want to keep their talk private.

Other Methods for Tapping a Phone

Law enforcement may also tap your phone using “tap and traces” or “pen registers,” which don’t require a wiretap order. These methods don’t record actual conversations, only the phone numbers associated with the line. Tap and traces record the phone numbers calling a specific phone line. Pen registers record the phone numbers from outgoing calls.

What Information can Police Obtain from a Wire Tap?

Law enforcement can access your texts and emails by going to your cell service provider or Google with a court order. They don’t need to prove probable cause, as they do for a wiretap order, to obtain this order. Let’s look a bit closer at the conditions behind the police obtaining information from citizens:

Emails

Authorities can get access to unopened email messages from the last 180 days, but they must get a warrant, first. The police may obtain your opened and unopened messages that are 180 days old or older with a subpoena. But they have to let you know once they’ve requested this access from the provider. 

Law enforcement are allowed to access older, unread emails without telling you if they obtain a court order. This order requires that they prove the emails are relevant to their investigation (which is more complicated than getting a subpoena).

Location Information

The government can use your cell phone data to track your location under certain conditions. Smart phone GPS features and cell phone towers can both provide this information. Cell phone carriers can give the police the location of a phone, and some providers charge a fee for giving out customer locations to authorities. Internet service companies can give law enforcement location data using their customers’ IP addresses.

IP Addresses

Authorities can gain real-time access to your IP addresses via a court order, just as they can with your personal phone records. To do so, the court must approve of the records as relevant to the police’s criminal investigation. Law enforcement can also access historical IP address records after getting an administrative subpoena.

Text Messages

Police departments can use various programs to save, view, and print messages stored from your iPhone backup. Can law enforcement recover deleted text messages? Some programs, such as Decipher TextMessage can help them recover certain messages that you’ve deleted in order to build up their evidence. 

To do so via this program, the police can back up any iPad or iPhone using iTunes and install the software on their department computer. Then, they’ll just have to select a contact to export messages from and get them as a PDF, saving the messages for their investigative purposes.

How to Know if the Police have Tapped Your Phone

If you want to know whether someone is tapping your phone line, listen for unusual sounds during your conversations. If you hear odd background noise such as high-pitched humming, static, or something similar, the police may be listening to your conversations.

There are a few other indicators that someone might be accessing your phone remotely, including a hot battery. If the device suddenly shuts down, lights up, or downloads apps randomly, these are other potential signs.

If your phone refuses to charge, it might be because law enforcement is recording your conversation. Keep in mind that none of these are surefire signals that someone is listening to your conversations.

Working with a Criminal Defense Attorney

Criminal charges can have a serious impact on your future. While it’s common to wait until after you’ve been charged to contact an attorney, you could be better off talking with one sooner.

If you believe the police are monitoring your phone calls or investigating you, contact a criminal defense attorney as soon as you can. This can ensure that you get the correct answers to your questions and a strong defense, should you need one.
 

Call the JacksonWhite Criminal Law team at (480) 467-4370 to discuss your case today.

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