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How Police Can See Your Internet History

Posted by William Bly | Sep 15, 2016 | 0 Comments

One of the biggest ways that law enforcement can get around your Fourth Amendment rights is by gathering evidence without conducting a “search.” If it's not objectively reasonable for you to assume that something will be kept private, then the police can get it and use it as evidence without having to get a search warrant or prove that the search fell within a warrant exception.

Importantly, if you voluntarily give information or something else that can be used as evidence to a third party, then it's deemed that you can no longer assume that it will be kept private. Therefore, police can get the material from the third party without implicating your Fourth Amendment rights, because they aren't conducting a “search.” This is called the third party doctrine, and impacts many of the things you do every day, like taking out your trash, or making a phone call.

What You Do On the Internet Likely Falls Within the Third Party Doctrine

Whenever you're online and do a Google search, Google takes note of what you search for, as well as where you were, when you searched for it. It's what allows Google to better predict what you're going to type into the search bar, and to provide only local results for when you search for “restaurant,” rather than hits for places on the other side of the country.

Additionally, many other websites utilize terms of use that allow them to plant cookies in your browser, letting them see where you've been and where you go in the future so they can target you with relevant advertisements. A good example is Every time you shop on Amazon, it tracks not only what you buy, but also what you look at so that it can list recommendations based on what you've viewed.

In both of these cases, by simply using the internet, you're also voluntarily providing information about yourself to a third party. Once you've done this, under the third party doctrine, you've destroyed the presumption that this information will be kept private. Therefore, police can search and obtain this information as evidence that you've committed a crime without implicating your Fourth Amendment rights. Because your rights are not at issue, law enforcement does not need to obtain a warrant, or show that they have probable cause to suspect that a crime has been committed.

Criminal Defense Attorney William T. Bly

The third party doctrine is one of the largest holes in the Fourth Amendment, as it drastically impacts everyone's day-to-day lives. Unfortunately, many people don't know how much information police can get about them, simply because they bought something online, or went to a specific website.

The third party doctrine is one of the many tools that police use when they investigate someone for a crime. If you've been charged with a crime in the state of Maine, you'll be up against a well-oiled machine with lots of resources. Your best chance at defending yourself is hiring a quality criminal defense attorney, like William T. Bly. Contact the law office of William T. Bly online, or at (207) 571- 8146.

About the Author

William Bly

William T. Bly, Esq. is a graduate of Rutgers College where he majored in Political Science with a minor in U.S. History. Attorney Bly attended and graduated the University of Maine School of Law. During his time in law school, Attorney Bly focused on criminal defense.


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