Internet browsing history: can it be used in court?

Internet browsing history and its use in criminal prosecutions:

Your internet browsing history tells a lot about you.  It tells what you recently purchased on Amazon.  It tells what you’ve streamed.  And sometimes it leaves a trail of illegal activity online.

Most of us spend at least part of our day on the internet, whether that be for work, school, or pleasure.  If you spend a lot of time on the internet, you provide advertisers, influencers, and, unfortunately, police a lot of material.  Police CAN use your internet browsing records against you in court, and unfortunately the process isn’t very difficult for them.

If you face an investigation or charges for any crime, it is crucial you hire a top criminal defense attorneys in Wisconsin.  When your internet service provider (ISP), a social media company (Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter), or the company hosting your email notify you that your records are subpoenaed, it’s time to hire a defense lawyer.

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Who has access to my browsing history?  Who can see it?

ISPs can see everything you do online.  They track things like which websites you visit, how long you spend on them, the content you view from a website (videos, pictures), the device you’re using, your geographic location, and the time you spend on the site.  Importantly, there are a few solutions to this issue.  To protect your information from the ISP, download a Virtual Private Network (VPN).  A VPN (especially a paid one) masks your internet protocol (IP) address, and encrypts all internet traffic running to and from your device.  Finally, a VPN tunnels all your information through an intermediary server.

Some VPNs even allow the user to replace their IP address with one showing a completely different location.  Currently, one of the best VPNs for privacy is NordVPN.

Nord goes far to protect consumers (as of October, 2021):

[NordVPN] confirm that we take full control of our infrastructure. We have never willingly disclosed any user data or provided any access to user traffic to any third party. We do not collect user traffic logs and have never been compelled to do so by any third party … have not disclosed any private keys or any information of our users, and we have not been forced to modify our system to allow access or data leakage to a third party of any kind.

How do authorities obtain my data?

Federal authorities employ the so-called “business records” provision of the Foreign Intelligent Surveillance Act (FISA), first enacted in 1978 to obtain your records.  Section 215 of the Patriot Act of 2001 amended FISA and allows the government to obtain a secret court order requiring third parties, such as telephone records or other “tangible things” if deemed relevant to an international terrorism, counterespionage, or foreign intelligence investigation.  Section 216 governs access to internet browsing history and other online activity.

If authority suspect you of committing a cybercrime, they can obtain online records via subpoena.  Your internet service provider must provide this information.  It’s important that you read the small print whenever signing up for any service.  Frequently you agree to providing law enforcement with your records right in the contract you sign.

What kinds of information can law enforcement obtain?

There is usually a direct correlation between the kind of information law enforcement obtains and the kind of case they’re investigating you for.  For example, let’s consider a first-degree intentional homicide case.  A Google search for “how do I hide a body” is certainly relevant to a murder investigation.  And that information is certainly ammunition for prosecutors.  Information you searched on a search engine, like Google, is saved in various places.  Firstly it’s in the browsing history saved on your computer.  Secondly, search engines frequently save this information.  And finally, your ISP maintains these records.

Frequently child pornography cases involve the defendant saving a photograph or video on a public server.  We encounter situations where the defendant saves a photograph in an email draft.  In others, the defendant sent the photograph to someone else on Facebook.  Large email servers and most social media platforms automatically scan the media saved to their platforms.  If material matches something illegal, like child porn, the company will report the image to law enforcement.

How can we defend your criminal case?

If you face criminal charges, one of the first questions you’re likely wondering is how we can defend you.  Unfortunately, every case is different and explaining every possible scenario is impossible.

But our first step will be to look into any pre-trial motions for your case.  Was there a search warrant executed on your computer?  That search warrant must be supported by other evidence which shows there is probable cause to believe there will be evidence of a crime found on that computer. That probable cause might be based on a subpoena.  Your criminal defense attorney should examine this warrant to determine whether we have a good reason to challenge the warrant.  If the warrant is invalid (and other exceptions do not apply), the result may be suppression of the evidence being used against you.

The other thing to remember is that you have a right to a jury trial.  This is certainly important, as you cannot be found guilty unless the government can show proof, beyond a reasonable doubt, that you committed the offense.  Various defenses certainly apply to cases involving your internet search history.  Firstly, do other individuals use your computer?  How many devices connect to the same network?  Is there a password to connect to your network?  While this list is definitely not exhaustive, it’s a start.  A valid attack using any of these avenues could be enough to show the government cannot satisfy its burden.

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Your internet search history can be used against you in court. Contact our criminal defense attorneys at (414) 270-0202 for immediate help.

Contact our law firm for help

At Van Severen Law Office, we certainly recognize the difficulty you’re facing.  You probably feel scared after police, the courts, or your ISP contacted you.  Those feelings are absolutely reasonable.  But now you must make a very important decision: which lawyer should I hire?

All of the attorneys at Van Severen Law Office are criminal defense specialists.  This is the only area of law we practice.  We recognize the intricacies of criminal law, and we remain dedicated to clients just like you.  Don’t wait to contact us because you feel embarrassed – we work on criminal cases just like yours every day.  Many other law firms split their time between types of cases.  But the ability to figure out something like family law isn’t going to help in your criminal case.

Finally, we answer phones 24/7.  After hours you will reach our answering service, but you will quickly receive a call back from one of our defense attorneys about your case.  On that phone call we’ll set up a free consultation and begin talking about your case.  Reach us at (414) 270-0202.

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