As technology continues to have intimate conversations with the sky en route to bigger and better things, the law enforcing authorities continue to eavesdrop to get a share of the pie. Tracking criminals is the bread and butter of cops, and while following or hunting down criminals used to take ages in the past, modern day cell phone tracking allows the police to do that in a considerably less span of time. Even so, police accessing data from cell phone companies does generate its fair share of hue and cry regarding privacy concerns – and understandably so.
The Mitchell-Wright Case
A Wilmington detective recently revealed how the Wilmington police solved a homicide case in 2011, which involved robbery and fatal shooting. The eventual prosecution of Melvin Wright and Omar Mitchell after the slaying of Esam Al-Haidari, was possible because of cell phone tracking. If Wilmington police hadn’t had access to the cell phone data, the two suspects wouldn’t have had been charged as quickly as they were, and their arrest wouldn’t have had been possible as well. This is where the push for cell phone trackers comes from.
According to reports, police found a cigar box following the crime in the aforementioned case, which had Melvin Wright’s fingerprints on it. Police had a cell phone number on file for him due to his involvement in another criminal case and so they filed a subpoena with the cell carrier. It was then discovered that Wright’s phone was in fact in the area where the crime was committed, at the relevant time. Also, the texting detail obtained from Wright’s phone confirmed his involvement in the robbery and that Omar Mitchell – whose phone was later found out to be in the area at the time of the crime as well – was also found to be involved in the crime.
According to the ‘probable-cause’ standard, Police then got a warrant to search the residences of the two suspects. They found the murder weapon along with other conclusive evidence that proved beyond doubt that the pair was involved in the homicide. Had a cell phone tracker been involved the situation would’ve been drastically different.
The whole privacy concerns versus crime eradication debate hinges on the ‘probable cause’ standard. Police require a valid reason, known as the probable cause, to seek a particular suspect’s cell phone data. In the Mitchell-Wright case they obtained the data without this probable cause – probably via the “reasonable suspicion” standard –, which meant that their tasks were performed quicker, and the case was solved in considerably lesser time as well.
The sting in the entire tale comes courtesy the fact that in the Mitchell-Wright case, had police been asked for a probable cause – the odds are that they wouldn’t have had been able to sermon one that meets the required standard. This is turn means that the criminals, currently under police custody with sufficient evidence against them, would not have had been caught.
This is how pivotal getting cell phone data on time can be for criminal cases, and hence there is the clamor for reducing the standard needed to give police the right to access the suspect’s cell phone.
One-off and Privacy Concerns
The flipside of the aforementioned clamor is the question whether or not an occasional Mitchell-Wright case justifies invading everyone else’s privacy. Yes obtaining useful data has proven to be the difference between criminals being persecuted or roaming around free, but if we continue to lower the standard for the warrant, soon police would be allowed to walk inside any door without needing a warrant. So, while cell phone monitoring is invaluable in tracking down criminals, we can’t make rules based on one-offs.