Forget Paris Hilton; heres a wireless security story thatll make ones heart pulsate the next time a cell phone or PDA lands in someone elses possession.
Houston police officer Christopher Green, after arresting a woman on suspicion of drunken driving, allegedly downloaded sexually explicit pictures from her confiscated cell phone onto his PDA and then showed them to several colleagues.
Internal investigators have stepped in to examine the situation and reports that Greens partner, George Miller, later called the woman and asked her for a date.
Both officers have been pulled from their usual patrolling duties.
“Were sort of waiting to see whats going to happen,” Houston Police Officers Union attorney Aaron Suder told the Houston Chronicle, which broke the story Friday.
This news is another indicator that wireless privacy and security is becoming a more visible issue, especially as its becoming the norm for portable devices outfitted with wireless capability.
For companies, security on employees portable wireless devices, such as cell phones and PDAs, has already started to become a major part of the IT infrastructure.
Some companies have taken the first step, mandating that employees refrain from using work-issued portable devices for any personal matter.
Forrester Principal Analyst Ellen Daley says companies have also been starting to require power-on passwords and in terms of data disposal, setting up scenarios that will let the company kill the data on a device remotely if, say, an employee forgets a BlackBerry at happy hour or tosses an old cell phone in the trash after receiving a new one.
Outside company walls, though, wireless privacy for consumers has yet to get the same star treatment.
Working toward security
Daley says several mobile service providers, such as Verizon Wireless, are working on making customers phones secure, mostly by letting them assign passwords to their mobile devices before they will boot completely.
Daley says that this probably will be an optional service since most mobile users dont want to take the time to enter a password before using their cell phone or PDA.
Consumers like the drunken-driving suspect (or Hilton) who have their wireless device invaded have little legal recourse, said John Morris, staff counsel for the Center for Democracy and Technology.
“Its no different than if someone lost their wallet and someone else found pictures inside of it,” Morris said. “Theres no law directly prohibiting a finder from disclosing them.”
The Houston case might be a bit different than the Hilton case, Morris said.
“There may be some [Texas] state law about the abuse of property if investigators disclosed what they seized—but thats going to be a state-by-state thing.
“If it goes to court invasion of privacy or court laws that already exist—not going to be an electronic or online law that directly covers this.”
As for the future of wireless privacy legislation, Morris said its not a clear situation at the moment.
“Were going to see more situations where theres some electronic invasion of privacy —some of those will be addressed by old offline laws, and some will be addressed by new laws.”
Until then, both Morris and Daley said the best advice for employees and consumers is to keep wireless mobile devices close at all times.
“I advise people to wear it—as corny and as dorky as that looks,” Daley said. “Some people will go out and just leave it on the bar—whats up with that?
“Especially if you have naked pictures on it.”