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Can Google Search History Be Used as Evidence?

By stladmin on October 14, 2020

The amount of information and content on Google is massive, and it is growing every day. You can find every recipe imaginable or track down long lost movies you watched late at night years ago. In addition, there are all sorts of rabbit holes you can end up on the worldwide web. While some may seem innocent enough, others can be more questionable and can lead to a darker side of the internet. However, very few of us expect these search results to be used against us in a criminal trial.

What You Look Up Online Is Not Private

While we may think that using incognito mode or deleting browser history means that no one can look up our search results, not everything we do online is private. In fact, our internet providers actually do log what websites we look up, and that information can be looked up at a later date. This is not uncommon during criminal trials where the prosecution may file a subpoena to have your internet history be presented as evidence. But why would they do that?

Well, it will all vary depending on your case. White-collar crimes like fraud or hacking can lead to the prosecution looking into your browser history in order to see if you have attempted to break into a security system. Alternately, if you are suspected of possessing ecstasy, the investigators may look into whether or not you searched for local drug dealers online.

Looking stuff up on Google is not a crime in and of itself, but there are certain searches that can raise red flags. For example, searching “child pornography” and actually looking through results could be a violation of the Child Online Protection Act (COPA). Or, if someone has a protective order against you and you attempt to stalk them, your search history can be used to support further charges.

However, many charges are based on intent, meaning your search results on their own cannot be the sole basis for a conviction. The prosecution must also show that you actually intended to or did commit a crime with the aid of your search results.

When the Prosecution Can Subpoena Browser Data

There are two ways in which online information is admitted as evidence in criminal cases: sting operations and subpoenas by district attorneys. In sting operations, police investigators typically masquerade as users online with the purpose of getting another user to admit to a crime or engage in illegal activities, such as soliciting a minor for sex, admitting to selling drugs, or asking someone to help with a fraud scheme. Because this information is already stored on the police officer’s computer, that information is readily available to them when building a case.

But what about your own search results? Well, for those the prosecution must subpoena your internet provider to access their records. They may provide your entire search history for the past few years, but the district attorneys will likely only care about searches that occurred around the time of the alleged crime. They can also subpoena your own computer to see if there is an internal record that can link you to a crime.

Can My Defense Attorney Stop Them?

All evidence is subject to certain legal requirements before it can be admitted into a criminal trial, whether it is a firearm, piece of stained clothing, or web search. If a district attorney attempted to use your browser data as evidence, your attorney could argue that it is inadmissible because:

  • It is irrelevant to the case and will only confuse the jury
  • The data is being taken out of context and is not connected to the alleged crime
  • The evidence was illegally obtained and violated your Fourth Amendment Right to protection from illegal search and seizures

Even if the evidence is submitted in a criminal trial, your attorney can still demonstrate through expert testimonies that the evidence is being taken out of context and that it is only circumstantial. But that requires skill and knowledge, and you won’t find that at any average law firm. Instead, you will want to work with a Gillette criminal defense attorney at Steven Titus & Associates, P.C. Our trial attorneys are experts at defending clients in a variety of criminal trials. We can properly protect your rights throughout the trial and advocate for your freedom in a trial. If you have been charged with a crime in Campbell County, contact our offices at (307) 257-7800 and learn how we can fight for you.

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Posted in: Criminal Defense

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