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Can the police track your phone

Our mobile phones provide a detailed insight into our lives. It’s only natural, then, that we would want much of the information stored on our phones to remain private. But what happens if the police become involved? Could they track your phone without your permission?

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In this article, we discuss the powers the police have concerning tracking your phone, the types of data they may be able to secure and what you should do if you have any concerns that your phone is being tracked.

While we hope this information is useful, please note that it should not be taken as legal advice. If you need further support with concerns you have about the police’s power to track your phone, then please get in touch and our team can advise you.

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Can the police track your phone?

The short answer to this is yes, the police can track your phone. However, the longer answer is a little more complex and will depend on your circumstances, in addition to the line of enquiry the police are investigating.

Generally speaking, the police will only be able to intercept your communications remotely if you are suspected of committing a serious crime. The police will also need a court warrant to do this.

If your phone is seized as evidence during an arrest, the police will have the power to seize it and access its contents without you giving them a password or PIN code.

How do the police track your phone?

The method the police use for ‘tracking’ a mobile phone will depend on various factors, such as whether they see fit to attempt to access a phone remotely, or if they are able to gain physical possession of a phone.

Can the police access your phone remotely?

The police have access to technology which means that they can access your phone remotely, but only with a relevant court warrant. The police can also extract any data that is being uploaded by your phone to the cloud.

Can the police access your phone if it is seized?

If you are arrested, any personal belongings you had on you at the time will be seized, including your mobile phone. In the first instance, the police will likely ask you to unlock your phone and provide passwords to your social media accounts.

You do not need to provide this information. However, it may be possible for the police to lawfully access your phone, unless the data on your phone is encrypted.

Can the police track a phone that is turned off?

After a mobile phone is switched off, it is only possible to track it to the last location it was switched on. The only possible exception to this may be if the police have previously installed malware or a tracking chip.

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Am I legally required to give the police my phone password?

No, you are not legally required to give the police your phone password to unlock your phone. However, the police could also choose to use Section 49 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA), which makes it an offence to refuse to provide access to your phone. You could be arrested and prosecuted for failing to comply with a RIPA notice.

What data can the police get from your phone?

The type of data the police can take from your phone varies depending on whether they have physical or remote access to your phone.

Data will often include:

  • Social media activity
  • Photos and videos
  • Messages (text, third-party apps such as WhatsApp etc)
  • Contact details
  • Email history
  • Browsing history
  • Location data
  • Banking
  • ‘Hidden’ data such as deleted messages and photos

What are the police’s stop and search powers in relation to your phone?

If you have not been arrested by the police, you can refuse to grant the police access to your phone. Under most circumstances, the police cannot stop you and make you unlock your phone so they can search it. The only exception to this is if the police have reasonable grounds to believe that you are involved in a particular offence.

If a police officer searches your phone without proper cause, any evidence that they find could be excluded by the Court and not allowed to be used as part of a prosecution.

Detailed information on police powers to search your phone and social media accounts can be found here.

Are you concerned about your phone being tracked by the police?

If you are concerned about the police accessing your phone, you need advice on your rights, or you believe that your phone may be used against you in a criminal investigation, our team can provide expert legal advice.

Our specialist criminal defence solicitors have over 45 years of experience in handling the full spectrum of offences, including many of those which are often tied to mobile phone data. Whatever your situation may be, or what crime you are accused of, we are able to provide carefully tailored advice that ensures you are able to achieve the best possible outcome. That could mean having charges dropped or having a sentence lowered if conviction is unavoidable.

We are highly skilled at dealing with all forms of evidence, notably digital evidence. We can help you establish a strong case, identify any potential flaws in the case against you and ensure that any evidence that supports your position is clearly identified.

We have been accredited by the Law Society for Criminal Litigation. This, coupled with our extensive experience, means that we can demonstrate a strong track record of previous success, which has also allowed us to establish strong relationships with many of the country’s leading criminal defence barristers.

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