Criminal Law News & Current Affairs

By Jane Carey


Checking in: Mobile phone location data in criminal law matters

JANE CAREY, lawyer at BA&A has some interesting information to share in relation to mobile phone data:


Sharing your instant filtered photo of your kale smoothie with perfectly poached eggs on quinoa for Sunday brunch on social media, could be sharing a lot more than you think. You might not have even tagged the photo to say where you’re enjoying your brunch, but your phone has tracked where you have been and this could be used as important (or perhaps damning) evidence in a criminal law matter.


More and more often in criminal law matters we are seeing law enforcement agencies downloading a person’s complete phone data and admitted as evidence. For example, this data includes:


  • call history of who you called, when, for how long, and where from based on cell tower locations
  • SMS and MMS message history (including content)
  • photos, videos and other multimedia


What is surprising for a lot of people is the frequent location history stored on your phone without you even realising. Apple iPhones automatically store your frequent locations when you set up your phone. The frequent locations data details where you’ve been, how many times you’ve visited the location, exactly what time on what date you were at that location and for how long. (You can access this data on an iPhone through settings » privacy » location services » system services » frequent locations, and disable the function.)

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The ability to access such great detail about where you’ve been and when, could be used to support an alibi if you are charged with a criminal offence. On the other hand, it could be used as crucial evidence to link you to a criminal offence.


The Australian Government’s relatively new data retention laws will mandate for telecommunications companies to retain metadata for two years. Currently law enforcement agencies are limited to accessing what data the telecommunications companies have retained, in some cases only the past few months of data. Although telecommunications companies will not be required to retain the content of your messages or your web-browsing history for 2 years as part of the metadata, you should be aware that telecommunications companies can currently access the content of your messages and it can be used as evidence in criminal law matters.

So next time you’re using your phone to document your Sunday brunch, think about how much of your life is already inadvertently stored on your phone. You do not need to be scared, rather be aware of your privacy settings and the potential for your phone data to be used as evidence in a criminal law matter.


Jane Carey, Lawyer