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I'm trying to help someone out on a different stack exchange website about a stolen device. Not many of us know many too much about the law.

We are trying to figure out who has/where is the stolen device. We know the device manufacturer account system(I'm just avoiding stating the company name) will log all logins and where there came from. One of the things they log is an IP address which can be used to trace it to an extent.

Unfortunately this information isn't public, and we think the only way to get this information would be with a subpoena.

How could we get a subpoena issued to retrieve this information? Would there need to be an attempt to press charges in court to get a subpoena? Or can the police department issue one?

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    This is far too broad a question. Narrow it by, at the very least, specifying a jurisdiction. – Nij Nov 13 '17 at 18:08
  • Don't assume that a subpoena is the only way to get this information. Companies may co-operate with law enforcement without a subpeona. – Mark Rosenblitt-Janssen Nov 14 '17 at 2:12
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Law enforcement officers can obtain information with a search warrant, which is a document issued by a judge or magistrate that authorizes them to search for specific information or evidence based on "probable cause" to believe that it will inform the investigation or prosecution of a crime.

A court can also issue a subpoena at the request of a party to a proceeding before it. Since in most cases only the state can bring criminal charges before a court, an individual would have to bring a civil complaint before a court in order to even request a subpoena related to his complaint. Also, it is up to the court to enforce its subpoenas: It's not like a warrant where you can then pursue the items subpoenaed through force. If the subject of a subpoena doesn't respond you have to ask the court to compel the party, which means you have to bring your complaint before a court that has jurisdiction over the party you wish to subpoena. This can be difficult when it involves a third party – especially a third party that would rather ignore or object to the subpoena than hand over the information.

I.e., if you can't convince law enforcement to investigate the crime, and you can't convince the company in possession of the data that it's in its interest to help you, then you would most likely be facing a steep legal bill to get an attorney to successfully obtain the information through civil process.

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@feetwet's answer is correct as far as it goes.

A handful of states have pre-litigation civil subpoenas, but these are overwhelmingly the minority position. Most states do not allow this and neither do most countries.

Many government regulatory agencies, however, do have pre-litigation civil subpoena power. So do prosecutors in many jurisdictions (although other jurisdictions limit criminal pre-charge subpoena power to grand juries). Police departments generally can't issue subpoenas, instead they ask a prosecutor to issue a subpoena for their benefit, either directly, if authorized to do so, or through a grand jury.

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