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Do Police Need Warrants to Extract Evidence from Social Media Profiles?

People are putting information about themselves and their lives on the internet more than ever, thanks to the explosion of social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. If you are not careful with your privacy settings, you might find that content you thought you were just sharing with friends and family is actually available for anyone to view.

It should come as no surprise that police are increasingly monitoring these platforms as valuable parts of criminal investigations. There are some who are concerned that this monitoring could violate people’s rights to privacy, but how much of this is a legitimate concern? And furthermore, do police officers need to get warrants to extract evidence from social media?

Navigating today’s social media world

Police departments typically begin their investigations only by looking at postings that are set to public. This means the owner of that profile has not set any restrictions on who can or cannot see the profile or individual posts. For this content, there is no need for an officer to obtain a warrant — that content is out in “plain view,” available to anyone capable of browsing the internet.

If an officer wanted to gain access to a private Facebook page, for example, it would typically require a valid search warrant. Even then, such cases are difficult to navigate and do not have much in the way of precedent.

There are a variety of issues to consider here. For example: is an officer allowed to use an informant’s profile to view content that would otherwise be private or restricted? Are people under criminal investigation allowed to delete profiles or posts that could serve as evidence in an investigation?

If you have been accused of a serious crime, it’s important to secure effective legal counsel as quickly as possible. Learn more about your options by consulting dedicated Reading criminal defense attorney David R. Eshelman.


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