Skip to Content

Your Internet Browsing History and Its Use in Court

The average person spends at least part of their day accessing the internet, be it for work, for school, or personal use. While most people use the internet to simplify daily tasks such as banking and shopping or to stay connected with friends and family, some people log on and become involved in illegal activity. Illegal activity online includes (but is not limited to) acts such as:

  • Cyberbullying
  • Trafficking passwords
  • Cyber extortion
  • Creating or possessing child pornography
  • Soliciting minors for sexual activity
  • Offering to pay or be paid for sexual activity

If you are suspected of a crime using the internet, your browsing history can and will be used against you in a court of law.

Who Can See My Internet History?

Your internet service provider tracks all the websites you access using the internet. Not only do they track the sites you visit, but they also log how long you spend using the site, what you access on the site (such as videos), what device you use to do it, and your specific location using GPS.

This information can be subpoenaed by authorities via a search warrant if you are suspected of committing a cybercrime, and your internet service provider must turn over the information by law. Most internet service providers have agreements with law enforcement agencies to help provide your search information and browsing history without hassle to help prevent crimes. As of May of 2020, the FBI can also access your browsing history without a warrant due to an amendment made to the PATRIOT Act of 2001.

Does Intent Matter?

Searching for things online does not necessarily constitute a crime. For example, if you were researching drug use or the effects of certain drugs, it would not be illegal to search for “ecstasy.” However, if you are caught possessing ecstasy or intending to sell ecstasy, the prosecution may look at your internet history to see if you searched whether the substance was available to purchase online or if you advertised that you were selling it.

Certain search terms bring up red flags in many systems. If you were to search the term “child pornography” and browse the results, you could be violating the Child Online Protection Act. Despite this, what you search for is not enough to get you convicted of a crime on its own. The legal defense must prove that what you searched for online aided in a crime you did commit or crime you intended to commit using said results.

When Can Authorities Ask for My Browser History?

Authorities can catch people committing cybercrimes in a few different ways. The first and most frequently used method is through a subpoena of your internet service provider, which must be submitted by a district attorney. Your provider may hand over your search history from the past couple of years, or from a specific time frame indicated by the DA handling the subpoena (the time frame in which you allegedly committed the cybercrime).

Although most people committing cybercrimes get on to the internet with the intent to commit said crimes, police also get involved in these crimes by launching sting operations using the world wide web. In certain cases, police officers will get online and pose as anonymous users with the intent of catching other users red-handed. For example, they may try to get a drug user to admit to where they bought their drugs from or if they’re selling them, or they may pose as a minor and attempt to have people solicit sexual acts or lewd images from them.

In these cases, officers already have all the information they need to make an arrest and may subpoena further internet history information or your computer itself to check for other crimes you may have committed (or other instances of the same crime).

Defending Yourself When Your Internet History is Obtained

Having your internet search history subpoenaed is scary, and you may be wondering what defensive position you and your legal team can take to avoid potential fines, jail time, and other consequences you may face because of the subpoena. There are a few standards that internet evidence must meet before it can be used in your trial:

  • The information must be relevant to the case and the accusation being prosecuted
  • The information must be obtained legally and properly, and it must be proven that it was
  • The information must comply with all applicable rules for evidence per state and federal law

Your legal team can argue that your information was obtained illegally and that all aspects of the Fourth Amendment’s right to reasonable search and seizure were not considered before the search history was presented to the court. You can also argue that there was bias in the search, or that the information being provided will only mislead or confuse the jury.

Contact an Attorney Today

Defending someone against the accusation of internet crimes is complicated and requires knowledge that only an experienced attorney can provide. If you have been accused of a cybercrime and your internet search history has been obtained, contact the Law Offices of Christopher J. Cherella today for expert legal advice and compassionate, empathetic service.

Having tried hundreds of criminal cases, Attorney Cherella will help guide you through the process and work tirelessly to represent you well. Contact him today at (414) 882-8382 or by following this link.