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Authorities required to have warrant before pinging a cellphone

On Behalf of | Apr 26, 2019 | Drug Charges, Wheeling Criminal Law Blog |

In a majority of crime shows, there are scenes depicting an onslaught of local authorities working to track down criminals by pinging their cell phone location. However, even though this has been true in the past, a recent change may now require authorities to do a bit more footwork before they are cleared to ping the location of any cell phone in West Virginia. 

Recently, the Supreme Judicial Court altered previous rules by stating that they are now requiring authorities to secure a search warrant before they can ping a suspect’s cell phone. The only exception to this new law is “exigent circumstances” where an emergency situation takes precedence to the aforementioned law. A large part for altering the law at all is the concern of lawmakers that surveillance unbeknownst to cell phone users has exceeded what is lawful and is now invasive to privacy. Not much is required of authorities in order to access sensitive information from cell phone providers. In many cases, they need only know the user’s phone number and that particular device needs to be powered on. 

In situations where this law is overlooked and it is not deemed a case where exigent circumstances allowed authorities to ping a cell phone without a warrant, a criminal may claim that such use of their information was illegal. In these types of cases, evidence gathered as a result of pinging the cell phone may eventually be dismissed altogether. 

If people are questioning the validity of authorities’ efforts to search and seize their property, they may wish to contact an attorney. Experienced legal professionals have the resources to determine when such searches are unlawful and can provide direction in a person’s ability to be compensated. 

Source: MassLive, “Police need warrant or ‘exigent circumstances’ to ping cell phones, Supreme Judicial Court rules,” Dan Glaun, Apr. 23, 2019