The law states that whatever you say can be used against you in court. But what about the searches you make?

Several recent cases have revealed how the court views internet searches, including how police obtain them and use them against a defendant.

Cases Involving Questionable Internet Searches

Two recent cases have questioned whether soliciting Google searches infringes on someone’s constitutional rights.

Denver Case Involving Arson & Murder

A judge in Colorado will decide on Aug. 19 if an internet search made by Denver Police as they attempted to solve a 2020 arson and murder of five members of a Senegalese family in Denver was constitutional.

Defense attorneys are labeling the police effort a “digital dragnet,’ arguing they overstepped their authority by implementing a Google keyword search of the crime scene address two weeks before the fire.

Google admits it complied with the criminal warrants issued by authorities, giving police the names of five people who had performed such an internet search during that time frame. Three months later, Denver Police arrested three people, two of whom Google revealed had performed the online search.

Assassination Attempt on Supreme Court Judge

Police usage of the public’s social media activities is already playing a key role in prosecuting the man accused of attempting to assassinate U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh in June 2022. The defendant’s carefully plotted plan included his solicitation of advice online on how to commit such a crime.

According to the search warrant, the defendant performed an internet search of various keywords relating to the plot just weeks before the planned attack. Searches for “how to be stealthy,” “assassin skills,” and “most effective place to stab someone” were found on his computer.

If you’re arrested in Philadelphia for an alleged criminal activity, can your internet searches be used against you like these two scenarios?

Yes, The Police Can Use Your Social Media

When a person is charged with a crime in the United States, the Constitution allows them the right to remain silent. That’s because what a person says to the police can be used to prosecute them if the information is incriminating.

And, in a nod to the ever-increasing popularity of social media platforms, police are employing an additional tactic to secure convictions, even if the accused doesn’t utter a word.

According to Statista, the U.S is home to the third-largest social media audience worldwide, with upwards of 302 million social media users. Only China and India boast more.

And it’s not just a person’s own social media postings that can be searched, located, and used to convict someone. Photos and posts placed online by third parties, whether friends, strangers, or media members, are considered in the public domain. The internet is everywhere and can’t be truly erased.

How Law Enforcement Gets Your Social Media Posts

Internet search providers (ISP) keep track of every click you make online. While deleting your history of visited websites or keyword searches might erase them from your view, they are still stored somewhere. And, with the right kind of access, the information can be found.

Police are permitted to seek warrants to search a person’s social media postings, yet initial searches without warrants can and do happen.

Evidence is used to convict defendants, but it must be obtained legally. If not, it is considered “spoiled” and cannot be used to convict someone of a crime.

The Philadelphia Police Uses Social Media Too

Philadelphia Police have been monitoring social media to solve crimes since 2008. And, with the uptick in crimes occurring in the city, those efforts have increased.

One such example occurred in March 2021. Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said social media proved “invaluable” to the department’s investigation of criminal activity in Philly launched under the city’s Gun Violence Task Force.

Photos posted to publicly accessible internet accounts permitted authorities to identify persons of interest, while Instagram posts helped police obtain valid search warrants.

The utilization of social media by police to investigate crimes is an evolving area of law. While the Constitution guarantees a right to privacy, the nature of the World Wide Web blurs the lines between what is public and private.

Protecting Against Incriminating Web Searches

The best way to protect yourself from social media posts being used to convict you for a crime is never to post anything, perform an online search, or be photographed.

Short of those extreme measures, one way to protect your internet searches is a Virtual Protection Network (VPN). This software creates a protected network connection when public networks are used. VPNs encrypt internet searches and disguise online identities, making it more difficult for third parties to track online activity.

Call Fienman Defense Today

With more considerable experience protecting his clients’ constitutional rights, Michael Fienman will attack any unscrupulous methods of discovery employed by authorities to derive evidence. His tactics include challenging the validity of search warrants, the veracity of witnesses, and highlighting the potential for spoilation of evidence.

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