Moral Low Ground

Civil Liberties

Michigan Police Deny Secretly Extracting Cell Phone Data During Traffic Stops

From PC Magazine:

The Michigan Police Force has denied the unlawful use of a device that can extract all your cell phone information, the same technology that is embedded in many of our cell phones.

The data extraction devices (DED) are manufactured by CelleBrite and can quickly extract mobile data, such as contacts, photos, and deleted text messages, from your SD card. CelleBrite counts Verizon, Sprint, AT&T, and other major carriers as customers; the technology is used to transfer data to a new phone when you upgrade.

According to the Detroit Free Press, the Michigan police force bought the devices in 2006. The force justified the purchase as necessary “due to the increasing use of mobile communication devices by criminals to further their criminal activity, and have become a powerful investigative tool used to obtain critical information from criminals.”

On April 13 the American Civil Liberties Union wrote a letter (see below) to the MSP asking for an explanation of how the devices are used.

“A device that allows immediate, surreptitious intrusion into private data creates enormous risks that troopers will ignore these requirements to the detriment of the constitutional rights of persons whose cell phones are searched,” wrote ACLU attorney Mark Fancher, in his letter to Lt. Col. Kriste Etue of the MSP. “Additionally, if racially disproportionate incarceration rates in the state are the result of racially disproportionate contact with law enforcement officers, then there is reason to be concerned that Michigan residents of color are more likely to have their cell phones searched by Michigan State Police.”

On Wednesday the police released a statement outlining how its employees are supposed to use DEDs. Police must hold a search warrant, or obtain consent from the mobile device holder, before using the DED to extract mobile data. Furthermore the DEDs can only be used by “specialty teams on criminal cases, such as crimes against children,” the statement read.

“The DEDs are not being used to extract citizens’ personal information during routine traffic stops.”


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