Next time you are pulled over, don't be surprised if a police officer asks for your cell phone, giving access to all your communications.
First of, I had a nice Easter story all lined up for you this morning, until FPU around 7:30 am decided to present my neighborhood with a power jolt that even fried my surge protector. Needless to say that the story got lost and now you have to deal with one of my concerned observations. Shared misery so to speak.
Last week someone finally had the “guts” to ask me why I had decided to give up on my cellphone ownership. For your information I did so several months ago, not only because I wanted to at least try and get some sanity back in my life, such as the right to not accept phone calls before 7am or after 8pm or when I’m driving a vehicle, I am also very wary about my rights to privacy, which is why I’m not overly active on social media sites, beyond professional interaction.
Let me state first and foremost that I do not suffer from paranoia when it comes to Big Brother; at the same time however I am convinced that humans are naturally curious about others, often to the point of sick details, no one should be exposed or privy to.
I came to that conclusion when I owned a publishing company in New York in the mid 80s that had several tabloids in its portfolio and for a short time operated between the likes of the National Enquirer and Harlequin Books. My time in that field was short, not because it was unusually profitable, but because it exposed me to the dangers of giving up my 4th amendment rights. Shortly afterwards I cut up all my credit cards as well, not because I had become obsessed with privacy (if so I would be a recluse and certainly not write several blog posts daily, that expose me in one way or the other), but because I had received the opportunity to look behind the curtains of involuntary data harvesting.
Technology was still in an early stage of computers being linked and connected, but I saw the writing on the wall and that writing is coming in loud and clear as we “progress” into the future. Just check out the following update on technology and your 4th amendment rights.
Officer: “Do you know why I pulled you over?”
Driver: “I think I was going a little fast coming down that hill. I was just slowing down. Sorry, but…”
Officer: “License, registration and cell phone, please.”
Next time you are pulled over, don’t be surprised if a police officer asks for your cell phone. That’s apparently what’s started in Michigan, where police are employing a new piece of technology in their war against lead-footed menaces and potentially cellphone use causing accidents. Both of these reasons are reasonably acceptable, even in my opinion. But that of course is only the beginning.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan urged the Michigan State Police last week to release information regarding the use of portable devices which are used to secretly extract personal information from cell phones during routine stops.
According to a complaint aired by the ACLU, Michigan State Police have launched a pilot program, having traffic cops search mobile phone data from speeders using this fancy gadget:
Sold by a company called Cellebrite , the “UFED” can download pretty much anything and everything from most models of phones: texts, photos, videos, even GPS data. The devices are equipped with adapters for connecting to most major brands of phones, and can even uncover information like the physical keypad lock code and internal diagnostics that track past SIM cards in use.
The device takes a dump of any phone memory it can access (on some phones, that’s a complete dump of everything) and stores it for offline analysis using the company’s desktop software back at the police station. There, police can read your call history, play your videos, or even recover previously deleted files in some cases.
There are potentially some credible uses for such a device, say, in analyzing the cell phone of a suspected drug dealer after his lawful arrest. But in Michigan the police have allegedly been using the device to download information from the cell phones of drivers pulled over for speeding, even when not suspected of any other crime.
The ACLU contends (and your author for one agrees completely, which I do not always do with ACLU “demands”) that downloading the contents of a person’s cell phone without probable cause or a search warrant is a clear violation of 4th Amendment rights. The organization has requested access to the logs from devices in use by the MSP, so they can determine what if anything has been downloaded, and what rights may have been trampled on, through the Freedom of Information Act.
And Michigan police are happy to comply. For a (small) administrative fee, of just $544,680 or $108,936 for each of the five devices currently involved in the complaint.
The ACLU, understandably perturbed “that Michigan State Police would rather play this stalling game than respect the public’s right to know,” have tried to narrow their requests to reduce the costs of fulfilling it, only to be given the runaround on when and where the devices have been used.
After 3 years of haggling back and forth behind the scenes, the ACLU is now bringing its case to the court of public opinion in an attempt to clear these roadblocks and continue its investigation.
I can only hope that they have some success curbing any abuses that might be occurring before these devices start winding up in the patrol cars of police around the nation.
Because there is one thing I fear the most in today’s world and that is losing the sanctity of the individual to the common good. It’s not that I don’t agree with common good prevailing in certain scenarios of life, I just don’t want to forget that common good is a term for a large group of individuals who all have their unalienable right to Life Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.