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Can Police See Your Online Search History in North Carolina?

On behalf of Randall & Stump, PLLC in Criminal Defense on Monday, August 14, 2023

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Many assume their online search history is protected, but this is not always true. Law enforcement officials may be able to access your search history, which could lead to criminal charges and a conviction with severe penalties.

Fortunately, when you have an aggressive criminal defense attorney working for you, you can protect your future and avoid the fallout of a guilty verdict. Here is more about what to expect if the police attempt to access your online search history in North Carolina.

When Can Police Access Your Online Activity?

Generally, police can search your online history if they have probable cause and a warrant to do so.

In addition, certain types of Internet searches can be automatically reported to the police by search engines themselves. This usually only occurs if Internet users view or download illegal, obscene content such as child porn. Police will be notified and can investigate you on child pornography charges and use your computer history as evidence against you in court.

With a Warrant

According to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, police can order a subpoena to obtain copies of your Internet search data using an IP address alone.

However, the ECPA court orders will not generally provide law enforcement access to your online activity. In most cases, law enforcement officials cannot access your browser history and Internet searches without a warrant.

Law enforcement may need additional warrants to access other files, browser history, emails, and Internet data. The warrants may be signed by a judge if investigators can show probable cause that your Internet history contains evidence of a crime.

Real-Time Spyware

When you are under investigation by investigators or other law enforcement officials, they may be able to get a warrant to install spyware on your devices. This gives them access to everything you are doing on the Internet at all times.

For example, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has been using tracking software to investigate individuals who access the dark web for identity theft or sex crimes.

Generally, those under investigation will have no idea law enforcement officials are using spyware to access their data. If the police are using spying on your Internet history, you could be facing criminal charges.

Types of Cybercrimes

Law enforcement officials take cybercrimes seriously. This is why they may seek warrants or attempt to use spyware to access the Internet and search the history of those they suspect of committing cybercrimes. Some examples of cybercrimes law enforcement officials frequently investigate include:

  • Viewing or possessing child pornography
  • Sexting with a minor
  • Cyberstalking
  • Online solicitation
  • Online prostitution
  • Identity theft
  • Online solicitation of a minor
  • Wire fraud
  • Hiring a hitman

Law enforcement officials will regularly participate in sting operations to take would-be criminals off the streets or the Internet. However, without a valid warrant, the police should not be accessing your personal Internet data or search history unless search engines have flagged you for inappropriate or illegal activity.

This means those who use the Internet for work, to research potential charges, or for informational purposes should not be at risk of facing criminal charges. If you are not engaging in any illegal activity, you should not have concerns that the police are accessing your Internet search data or activity.

What if You Use Incognito Mode or Delete Your History?

Many assume that deleting their Internet history or using the Internet browser’s incognito mode will ensure their data cannot be traced. However, private browsers are not technically private. Even if you delete your search history or use the incognito mode of your browser, cyber investigators have ways of contacting your Internet service provider and obtaining access to these records if you are currently under investigation.

This would create a trail of digital evidence that could later be used against you at trial. When you have an aggressive criminal defense attorney on your side, they will fight to exclude unlawfully obtained evidence. If the prosecutor’s case relied on this evidence, the charges against you could be reduced to a lesser offense or dismissed altogether.

Get Help from a North Carolina Criminal Defense Attorney Today

If the police unlawfully obtain access to your search history, this evidence should be suppressed and tossed out at trial. Your experienced North Carolina criminal defense lawyer will work diligently to challenge this evidence and get the charges against you dismissed altogether.

Please complete our online contact form or call our office at (980) 237-4579 to schedule your confidential consultation with Randall & Stump, Criminal Defense Attorneys, today.