MASON CITY, IA – For Sheriff Kevin Pals, collecting evidence can be a difficult process, especially when it comes to accessing cell phone records.
“But if we are doing a long term investigation we will either get a subpoena, a county attorney subpoena for those phone records through their phone company or get a search warrant for those records depending on what the investigation is,” said Pals.
Now, they may not need all that paperwork.
On Tuesday the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals said authorities can get location data off of cell phones from wireless carriers, and they do not need a search warrant.
The court used what’s known as “third party doctrine” to make that decision, which basically says the government can get hold of information you provided to someone else, in this case, your phone provider.
“If it’s a on-going investigation obviously we got to get some other legal authority to get their cell phone records and obviously the ruling by the supreme court is that the cell phone companies own the records not the people that have the cell phone,” said Pals.
But some providers, like Philip Biermann, with Iowa Cell Phones and Repair, want people to know that they are doing the best they can to protect your privacy.
“Basically when it comes to a lot of carriers are very, very unless there is some sort of court order for it they will not give that information up,” said Biermann.
And while it does seem like cell phones are a must these days, the judges’ point out, it is voluntary to own and use a phone.
“It makes you wonder what kind of goes on behind the scenes but I think overall they kind of give you permission to turn on to off,” said Biermann.
“A lot of everybody is using a cell phone whether you’re selling drugs illegally or you’re just a common citizen and you use your cell phone. Pretty much your whole life is on there all your contacts there, your emails, your websites you’ve been going to, your text messages and they feel a little violated when that’s taken from them. But when they’re under arrest we do take all inventories and it gives us a right to look through those,” said Pals.
Sheriff Pals stressed that when a suspect is arrested all of their possessions are fair game to be investigated, including cell phones.
So if someone is arrested, law enforcement is allowed to access the phone, and the information on it.
One thing Biermann pointed out was when you download an app on your phone, you’re letting that provider access your information, the same way your phone provider does.