State Cops Have a Device that Secretly Searches Cellphones

Wait a minute.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan urged the Michigan State Police MSP today to release information regarding the use of portable devices which can be used to secretly extract personal information from cell phones during routine stops. For nearly three years, the ACLU has repeatedly asked for this information through dozens of Freedom of Information Act requests, but to date it has not been provided.

ACLU Seeks Records about State Police Searches of Cellphones via Pogo Was Right.

Michigan state cops — and thus presumably lots of other state and federal cops and TLAs — have a secret “portable devices that have the potential to quickly download data from cell phones without the owner of the cellphone knowing”? And they’ve had it for three years?

This has to be tinfoil stuff, right? Right?


According to CelleBrite, the manufacturer of at least some of the devices acquired by MSP, the product can extract a wide variety of data from cellphones including contacts, text messages, deleted text messages, call history, pictures, audio and video recordings, phone details including the phone number and complete memory file dumps on some handsets.

CelleBrite touts itself online as a “maker of mobile forensics and data transfer solutions”.

Cellebrite’s mobile forensics products enable extraction and analysis of invaluable evidentiary data including deleted and hidden data for military, law enforcement, governments, and intelligence agencies across the world.

Among the goodies in their product line is the Cellebrite UFED Forensic System:

The Cellebrite UFED Forensic System is the ultimate standalone mobile forensic device, ready for use out in the field or in the lab.

The UFED system extracts vital information from 95% of all cellular phones on the market today, including smartphones and PDA devices (Palm OS, Microsoft, Blackberry, Symbian, iPhone, and Google Android). Simple to use even in the field with no PC required, the UFED can easily store hundreds of phonebooks and content items onto an SD card or USB flash drive.

Cellebrite UFED supports all known cellular device interfaces, including serial, USB, infrared, and Bluetooth. Extractions can then be brought back to the forensic lab for review and verification using the reporting/analysis tool. Cellebrite works exclusively with most major carriers worldwide including Verizon Wireless, AT&T, Sprint/Nextel, T-Mobile, Rogers Wireless – Canada, Orange France and Telstra Australia, as well as 140 others. This ensures that future devices are supported prior to retail launch.

Yikes. Does this sort of search violate the 4th Amendment? It should, but presumably the courts will treat it much like an actual search of a phone incident to a stop. Courts, such as the California Supreme Court recently, have held that such searches are allowed incident to arrest — but it doesn’t follow that a such an intrusive search would be allowed incident to a stop since there’s no way to hide a weapon in a cellphone SIM card; also not all stops are equal.

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3 Responses to State Cops Have a Device that Secretly Searches Cellphones

  1. Just me says:

    Sort of like law enforcement’s version of the iPhone Bump App.

  2. Brett Bellmore says:

    “Secretly” searches cell phones? When I read this, I imagined some kind of wireless hacking into your phone, while it sat in your pocket. But instead it sounds to me like the cops have to actually take physical possession of your phone, and plug it into the gadget, at which point that the search is being done “secretly” seems to be a bit of a stretch.

    No secret searches, it’s just that they’ve kept their capacity to do the searches something of a secret. But you’d probably know your phone was being searched if they used it.

  3. mkhall says:

    If your phone has bluetooth enabled with discovery – or if the Cellebrite hardware can bypass that – then the scan could be secret. Otherwise this sounds like a beefed-up version of the tool used in a phone shop to move your data from one device to another.

    I also wonder if a tablet computer would be considered a “phone” for police purposes?

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