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Let's say a minor calls the police or goes to them and reports that she got a sexual text on snapchat, but she has no proof. Is that enough probable cause for police to seek a warrant directed to snapchat to view all chats?

If she does have a sexual text as proof, is that enough evidence for probable cause?

If they get warrant for snapchat servers and they see the chats are empty, no texts, no evidence nothing, but they see the current email and also a previous email (snap is able to retrive email accounts history, the one currently in use and the older one), do they have the power to seek any accounts that were created with the previous email and seek warrants for what's on snap servers?

I'm asking because maybe that email belongs to someone else. They may see the IP used to create other accounts are the same with the accused account that's using another email (the current one), but maybe there are more people in the house and the accounts may be the private property of the others in the house. I do not think it would be fair for police to seek warrants for everything if there's no evidence on the accused account and even if there would be a small hint. The other accounts may be the private property of others

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    "probable cause for police to seek warrant to snapchat to view all chats?" Only chats involving the complaining party, not all chats between everyone everywhere.
    – ohwilleke
    Dec 15, 2022 at 20:23
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    Also "she has no proof". A statement of a witness is proof.
    – ohwilleke
    Dec 15, 2022 at 20:24
  • so if they say "hmm look before there was another email used to create the account , let s ask based on a warrant all accounts made with this email,oh look it looks like there are three accounts with previous email made" can they get warrant to see all chats of the other accounts if they are not subject to anything criminal ,wouldnt people privacy be worthless? Dec 16, 2022 at 5:19
  • A search warrant seems a bit overbearing in this case. They would probably just subpoena snapchat for the information they need.
    – Philipp
    Dec 16, 2022 at 11:51
  • subpoena is only for account information,snapchat says they need search warrant to give chats that were saved Dec 16, 2022 at 14:24

1 Answer 1

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Warrants are issued upon probable cause

The Supreme Court defined this in 1964 in Beck v. Ohio as:

whether at [the moment of arrest] the facts and circumstances within [an officer's] knowledge and of which they had reasonably trustworthy information [are] sufficient to warrant a prudent [person] in believing that [a suspect] had committed or was committing an offense

In the context of warrants, the Oxford Companion to American Law defines probable cause as:

information sufficient to warrant a prudent person's belief that the wanted individual had committed a crime (for an arrest warrant) or that evidence of a crime or contraband would be found in a search (for a search warrant)

In Brinegar v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court defines probable cause as:

where the facts and circumstances within the officers' knowledge, and of which they have reasonably trustworthy information, are sufficient in themselves to warrant a belief by a man of reasonable caution that a crime is being committed

In the scenario that you describe the testimony of the child almost certainly gives rise to probable cause. A warrant issued on that basis is likely to be broad enough for the investigation to follow the path that you suggest - if the child claims there were inappropriate photos sent to them and there was evidence of subsequent deletion, law enforcement are entitled to trace that back to wherever it leads.

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  • but how much can they view and how much data can they access,can they access other accounts? if they found there are more accounts ? how can they prove those accounts are not private to someone else,u did not answer my full question Dec 16, 2022 at 5:05
  • so if they say "hmm look before there was another email used to create the account , let s ask based on a warrant all accounts made with this email,oh look it looks like there are three accounts with previous email made" can they get warrant to see all chats of the other accounts if they are not subject to anything criminal ,wouldnt people privacy be worthless Dec 16, 2022 at 5:19
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    @NicoHeroGamer that’s how criminal investigations work. Criminals try to cover their tracks, police investigations try to find them notwithstanding. People’s right to privacy is not unrestricted - the probable cause standard is used to decide when the right of society to protect itself from criminals overrides the right of the potential criminal to privacy.
    – Dale M
    Dec 16, 2022 at 7:13

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