It has emerged that Michigan State Police have been using a high-tech mobile forensics device that can extract information from over 3,000 models of mobile phone, potentially grabbing all media content from your iPhone in under two minutes.
The CelleBrite UFED is a handheld device that Michigan officers have been using since August 2008 to copy information from mobile phones belonging to motorists stopped for minor traffic violations. The device can circumvent password restrictions and extract existing, hidden, and deleted phone data, including call history, text messages, contacts, images, and geotags.
Learning that the police had been using mobile forensic devices, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has issued freedom of information requests which demand that state officials open up the data collected, to better assess if penalised motorists warrant having their data copied.
Michigan State Police were more than happy to provide the information – as long as the ACLU paid $544,680. Obviously not pocket change.
“Law enforcement officers are known, on occasion, to encourage citizens to cooperate if they have nothing to hide,” ACLU staff attorney Mark P. Fancher wrote. “No less should be expected of law enforcement, and the Michigan State Police should be willing to assuage concerns that these powerful extraction devices are being used illegally by honoring our requests for cooperation and disclosure.”
Once the data is obtained, the device’s “Physical Analyzer” can map both existing and deleted locations on Google Earth, porting location data and image geotags on Google Maps.
The ACLU’s main worry is that the handheld is quietly being used to bypass Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches:
“With certain exceptions that do not apply here, a search cannot occur without a warrant in which a judicial officer determines that there is probable cause to believe that the search will yield evidence of criminal activity.
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.”
The next time you are Michigan, be sure drive carefully!