Can I Be Charged with a Crime for Searching Something on the Internet?

 Posted on July 28, 2022 in Criminal Defense

Chicago Criminal Defense AttorneyAlmost every adult in America uses search engines every day. For most of us, our search histories remain private forever - something we typically are grateful for, considering the inherent privacy most of us would prefer when asking all those questions that randomly come to mind. While we can generally feel secure that our searches are done anonymously, certain keywords and phrases can trigger the attention of federal law enforcement. Even a search done out of pure curiosity with no ill intentions may trigger an internet crimes investigation, and curiosity alone may not be a sufficient criminal defense. If you have law enforcement asking questions about your online behavior, contact a criminal defense attorney right away. 

Is the FBI Monitoring Civilian Search Histories? 

The FBI and other law enforcement organizations usually have no interest in what you might be looking up online. But if you are consistently looking up words, instructional materials, or other suspicious search terms that may indicate interest in criminal behavior, you may end up on a government watchlist. 

Furthermore, if you are charged with a crime, your search history may be used to show intent. It is important to be careful about what you are searching and to be aware that even when you are using someone else’s computer or searching on a public computer, like at a library, your search terms can still be linked back to you. 

When Does an Internet Search Become a Cyber Crime? 

Certain search terms may, in and of themselves, be sufficient to be considered a cybercrime. For example, seeking child pornography is a crime, even if you never actually look at any. Generally speaking, however, your search history must indicate you were also taking illegal action, including: 

  • Illegally downloading content that violates copyright rules 

  • Downloading, viewing, or possessing child pornography 

  • Looking for instructional materials about how to build a bomb, engage in political violence, or similar behaviors 

  • Actively participating in online groups that encourage or plan ways to break the law 

  • Participating in terrorist groups or activities online 

Potentially criminal internet searches can walk a fine line between free speech rights and criminal activity. Police sometimes try to interrogate someone to produce nonexistent evidence of a crime for suspicions based exclusively on that person’s internet search history, and then charge them using information obtained in the interview. 

Call a Chicago, IL Cybercrime Criminal Defense Attorney

At Law Offices of Hal M. Garfinkel LLC, Chicago Criminal Defense Attorney, we firmly believe that curiosity or a simple mistake should not define you for the rest of your life. If you are facing criminal charges for your internet activity, schedule a free consultation with our Cook County criminal defense attorneys right away. Do not talk to law enforcement, even if you are convinced you are innocent, without an attorney present. Sometimes explaining things can make your situation worse. Call the offices of Law Offices of Hal M. Garfinkel LLC, Chicago Criminal Defense Attorney today at 312-629-0669



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