In response to a letter publicized by the ACLU asking about police data collection activities, the Michigan State Police said it uses data extraction devices only in particular criminal investigations.
Michigan State Police use portable machines called data extraction devices that
can download personal information from mobile devices. The state's branch of
the American Civil Liberties Union wants to know how the police department is
using the five such devices it owns.
portable devices can be used to "secretly extract personal information from
cell phones during routine stops," ACLU staff lawyer Mark Fancher
wrote to Col. Kriste Etue, director of the Michigan State Police, on April 13.
The devices, sold by Cellebrite, can reportedly bypass security passwords and
download text messages, photos, video and GPS data from most brands of cell
phones. The Cellebrite UFED ('Universal Forensic Extraction Device) may also be
capable of obtaining erased text messages.
April 20, the Michigan State Police issued a statement denying it uses the
handheld devices to download personal information from motorists they pull
over. The devices are used only after a search warrant has been obtained or if
a mobile phone owner provides consent. Moreover, it would be impossible for the
data to be collected secretly, as the DEDs require the police officer to physically
possess the owner's mobile device to download the data, the department said.
DEDs are not being used to extract citizens' personal information during
routine traffic stops," the police department said in the statement. The
devices are used only by "specialty teams on criminal cases, such as crimes
against children," according to the department.
a citizen's private phone information without probable cause could violate the
Constitution's Fourth Amendment, which forbids unreasonable search and seizure,
according to the ACLU. The group asked the MSP to explain how the devices are
used, when they are used and if they have been used without the permission of
those who own phones or computers that were scanned.
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,"
advertises that its products can be used to "insure that a suspect's phone can
be examined before the individual has a chance to destroy or erase data." The
devices are also used by major wireless carriers including Verizon, Sprint and
AT&T to transfer data from old phones to new phones when users upgrade.
the technology should not be used without the phone owners' consent or with
search warrants, it's likely that if the phones are confiscated in the
commission of crimes, they're fair game for law enforcement. The courts are currently
giving police the leeway to look at cell phones to collect information, much in
the same way they can examine what a suspect has in his pockets or in a bag at
the time of his arrest, Andrew B. Serwin, a partner and founding chair of the
privacy, security and information management practice at Foley & Lardner,
told eWEEK. A recent appellate decision in California upheld the government's
authority to use text messages found on a suspect's cell phone as evidence
against him or her, Serwin said.
national ACLU has asked similar questions about the United States Department of
Homeland Security's use of devices to gather information from travelers'
computers and cell phones.
don't have the same expectation of privacy with their computers and phones at
the border, Serwin said. The courts have generally supported fairly broad
powers when it comes to searching laptops as part of border control.
implication by the ACLU that the [state police] uses these devices 'quietly to
bypass Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches' is untrue,
and this divisive tactic unjustly harms police and community relations,"
the state police said.
ACLU said it has been trying to get more information about these devices for
three years and has filed over 70 separate requests under the Freedom of
Information Act. The MSP said it was willing to comply with the FOIA request,
but the ACLU would have to pay a processing fee. The ACLU has balked at paying
more than $544,000 to get the information it's looking for.
only wanted assurances that these devices were being used lawfully,"
Fancher told Reuters.