I was very angry to read today, courtesy of a link at the Drudge Report, that Michigan State Police are allegedly obtaining information from the cellphones of motorists stopped for minor offenses. The Newspaper reports:
The Michigan State Police have a high-tech mobile forensics device that can be used to extract information from cell phones belonging to motorists stopped for minor traffic violations. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Michigan last Wednesday demanded that state officials stop stonewalling freedom of information requests for information on the program.
. . .
A US Department of Justice test of the CelleBrite UFED used by Michigan police found the device could grab all of the photos and video off of an iPhone within one-and-a-half minutes. The device works with 3000 different phone models and can even defeat password protections.
"Complete extraction of existing, hidden, and deleted phone data, including call history, text messages, contacts, images, and geotags," a CelleBrite brochure explains regarding the device's capabilities. "The Physical Analyzer allows visualization of both existing and deleted locations on Google Earth. In addition, location information from GPS devices and image geotags can be mapped on Google Maps."
The ACLU is concerned that these powerful capabilities are being quietly used to bypass Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches.
There's more at the link. It's very important reading indeed, if you value your privacy and your Constitutional protections.
I wanted to confirm this report, if possible, because I could hardly believe that a law enforcement organization could be doing such things without a warrant or the cellphone owner's permission. I did a little digging on the Internet, and sure enough, found what I needed. The Michigan branch of the ACLU has, indeed, raised this issue with the Michigan State Police (MSP). Their Web site gives details of the inquiry, and also links to a copy of their letter to the MSP (link is to an Adobe Acrobat file in .PDF format).
A company named Cellebrite does, indeed, exist, and does, indeed, market a device known as the UFED Physical Analyzer 2.0 (pictured below).
The release notes (.PDF file) for the latest version of this device give full details of its capabilities. A shorter, more readable summary may be found in the product brochure (.PDF file), which claims it offers:
- Logical data extraction from more than 3,000 mobile phones
- Physical data extraction from more than 700 mobile phones and GPS devices
- File system extraction and reconstruction for more than 900 phones and GPS devices
- Password extraction for more than 650 mobile phones
- Supports all major mobile operating systems, including Windows Mobile, Symbian, iPhone, Brew, Android, and BlackBerry
- Supports phones regardless of network carrier or technology
- Monthly updates to ensure compatibility with new phones
- Data cables for all supported phones [Live technical assistance, software updates, and cables for all new handsets are included with each product license]
You can imagine how many motorists, not being aware of the existence of such a device, will hand over their cellphones in response to a request from an MSP officer . . . and risk having their privacy invaded, illegally and without their knowledge, if he downloads all the information it contains. I can see why the ACLU is upset about this. I am too!
I hope and trust that the truth about this matter will come out, and that any illegal and unwarranted use of such technology - by the MSP or any other law enforcement agency, Federal, State or local - will be exposed and stopped in its tracks (complete with convictions and punishment for any officers or officials guilty of contravening the Fourth Amendment).