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Cell site simulator technology presents potential constitutional issues

We’ve previously discussed on this blog the issue of cell phones and privacy in the context of criminal investigation and prosecution. As we’ve noted, law enforcement is limited in its ability to examine cell phones for evidence of criminal activity without a warrant. Generally speaking, a search warrant is required for law enforcement to examine a cell phone, though exceptions can apply. In Florida, law enforcement can also compel cell phone owners to give up their passwords to facilitate a search.

Another issue is the tracking of cellphones and mobile devices with cell site simulator technology, which mimics cellphone towers and permits officers to obtain certain information from cellphones within a certain range of the device. This includes both the target phone and the phones of untargeted bystanders. At present, different states have different approaches to the question of whether use of the technology requires a search warrant, or whether the technology is legal at all. 

Florida is among a group of 13 states which require a warrant for officers to use cell site simulator technology. Federal law enforcement agencies also have the same policy, but courts are divided on the issue. Because the privacy issue is so real and because of the fact that law enforcement agencies are already using the technology in many places to target criminal suspects without a warrant, the issue is bound to go up before the Supreme Court sooner or later.

Fourth Amendment and other constitutional issues are, of course, important to explore in any criminal defense case. Working with an experienced criminal defense attorney is critical to ensure that a defendant’s rights and interested receive zealous advocacy. 

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