Text messages and calls “can now be submitted in court as evidence”

In a historic ruling, Évora’s court of appeal has clarified that text messages (even if they are not read) and mobile phone records can now be used in criminal cases and do not require any authorisation by a judge.

But emails – which can be accessed by mobile phones – can only be used if the person to whom they have been addressed has read them.

The decision was announced in today’s Diário de Notícias which claimed the law up until now has been “unclear in this context”.

Indeed it could have changed endless police investigations in the past – not least the original Madeleine McCann inquiry.

As TVI24 reveals, in 2007 Portimão Judge Pedro Frias “refused the PJ the right to look at text messages on Kate McCann’s mobile phone”, justifying his decision on the basis that “telephonic interceptions could not be authorised after the event”, and that he “could not authorise the consultation of written messages sent and received before receiving a request” to this effect.

Indeed TVI has run an exposé on the “controversial judge” (see our story elsewhere), adding that in 2007 “there were many voices” speaking out against this decision.

Now, as a result of the appeal court’s decision, the PJ would have had a great deal more investigative freedom.

Évora’s judges were asked to rule on the law following a case of theft in Serpa where the suspect had “inadvertently” left his mobile phone at the scene of the crime.

To find out who he was, police had gone through the man’s text messages and phone records.

The Public Ministry had argued that this was the kind of action that only a judge could authorise, but the panel defended that, “in essence”, a message kept in digital support “had the same protection as a written letter received in the post that had been opened and then filed in a personal file”.

Referring specifically to the case in Serpa, which DN stressed “should now apply to other cases”, the use of this kind of material should not require “previous intervention by a judge” to be authorised as proof.

Within hours of running the story, DN had received a number of commentaries both for and against.

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