A New Florida District Court of Appeal Ruling Analyzes the Fundamental Expectation of Privacy and the Use of Modern Technology on WiFi Devices

Sometimes, you may read in the news about a court case and have a viscerally negative reaction to the person accused of a crime. “That person is beneath contempt, so I am not sure I care if his rights were violated by the police,” some say. The problem, of course, is that once you allow the police to violate the rights of people just because they allegedly are contemptible human beings, then you potentially allow the police to violate the rights of anyone they suspect of a crime. Instead, our system establishes certain absolutes to ensure that all citizens are protected from overreach. If you or a loved are facing criminal charges, be sure you have skilled Florida criminal defense counsel to advocate for you and defend your rights.

One recent case that involved a question of fundamental constitutional rights began when police in Polk County identified an IP address that was associated with the sharing of child pornography. The police traced the IP address to a home, but discovered that none of the residents’ devices had been used to view or share child porn.

The police also discovered that the resident had not secured his network. That meant that anyone could “piggyback” off that person’s network simply by having a WiFi-enabled device and being close enough to his router. With the help of the resident, the police began monitoring that network’s usage. After that, they employed something called a “Yagi antenna,” that let them follow a signal that led them to a motorhome parked near the resident’s house. Inside, they found D. and his device, which was the one that had allegedly been used for the child pornography activities.

If the state’s allegations were true, D. was certainly a less-than-savory fellow. However, that didn’t wipe away the fact that the police’s tactics could have been questionable. It was those potentially questionable tactics that led D.’s defense team to ask the trial judge to throw out all of the evidence of child porn.

The basis of D.’s argument was the fundamental right that each person has to an expectation of privacy in his own home. This expectation of privacy has led to many important court rulings. In 2001, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that police couldn’t use a thermal imager to scan for heat signals inside a home. This was a violation of privacy because the heat signals the police got could not have been obtained with just their regular human senses. That made it an intrusion of the home and a violation of the Fourth Amendment. The Florida Supreme Court has included cell phones in that “expectation of privacy” when it comes to the Fourth Amendment.

There is, however, one aspect of the subjective expectation of privacy that worked against D. The expectation of privacy only extends as far as your home. When D. chose to steal Wi-Fi by piggybacking off his neighbor’s network, his signal was the equivalent of an invisible arm spanning from his motorhome to the neighbor’s house. That meant D. didn’t have a reasonable expectation of privacy and the Yagi antenna evidence could be used against him.

What is important from this ruling, though, is that, if you were using your own internet or Wi-Fi connection inside your own home and the police used technology like this Yagi antenna, then you might have a very strong argument for suppression of evidence under the Fourth Amendment.

The law gives everyone certain rights, including the right to be secure in their own homes, which includes an expectation of privacy. If you or a loved one is facing criminal charges consult the knowledgeable Tampa Bay criminal defense attorneys at Blake & Dorstem P.A. Our attorneys have been providing clients with skilled criminal defense representation for many years. Call us today at (727) 286-6141 to schedule your FREE initial consultation and get the information you need.

More blog posts:

How an Improper Miranda Warning May Lead to a Reversal of a Criminal Conviction in Tampa Bay, Tampa Bay Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog, Nov. 28, 2017

Accused Persons’ Rights to be Free from Double Jeopardy in Florida Criminal Cases, Tampa Bay Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog, Oct. 24, 2016

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