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Can the government turn my cellphone into a tracking device?

Answer:  Not without a search warrant, they can't. Almost all police departments around the country, including Florida, use covert cellphone tracking devices, known as 'Stingrays'.  These handheld devices, (also known as cell-site simulators), are used to determine a mobile phone's location by impersonating cell towers, which tricks your phone into transmitting pings to the device, allowing the police to narrow down your location to a few feet.   

A recent case

Raymond Lambis' phone was used this way by the DEA, who tracked him to his bedroom (he was asleep) where they found a kilogram of cocaine. But a federal court judge threw out the case, ruling that without a search warrant, the use of a Stingray to track a suspect was a violation of the Fourth Amendment, which protects us all from unreasonable searches and seizures. Cellphone users, (which are all of us), have an objectively reasonable expectation that their cellphones will not be used as real-time tracking devices, through the direct and active interference of law enforcement.

Cases coming under scrutiny in federal courts across the nation

A recent Washington Post article reports that federal judges across the nation are beginning to listen to arguments to throw out evidence gathered from cell phone tracking records. Experienced federal criminal defense attorneys in Florida understand the technology used in tracking a suspects movements by their cell phone usage can be unreliable. According to the article, technology experts called as witnesses can often show that the typical method of tracking - using a single tower - has severe limitations and casts reasonable doubt over the validity of the location.

Lessons learned

A Florida drug charges defense attorney with experience in any of the three federal court jurisdictions in Florida (Northern District, Middle District, Southern District) will have a access to witnesses who specialize in demonstrating how unreliable the evidence can be and will have a strong case for getting it thrown out.

If you're ever arrested with contraband and wonder how the police were able to locate you, make sure your lawyer asks about Stingrays. At times, the police have falsely claimed use of a confidential informant when they have actually deployed this particularly sweeping and intrusive surveillance device. Other times, the police have agreed to drop cases rather than admit to the use of a Stingray. This recent court decision strongly reinforces the strength of our constitutional privacy rights in the digital age.

Make sure your lawyer has experience with technology, not just the law

Jacksonville criminal defense lawyer Richard Landes, of Landes & Julien, will answer your questions regarding the charges you face and the possible illegal evidence gathered against you by the FBI or local law enforcement.

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