Saturday, April 23, 2011

Lock Up Your Cell Phone!

In this post, I reported on the new legal reality that police can view the contents of your cell phone under the Supreme Court's "closed container" ruling. Michigan is now taking that further than even I would have expected, this soon at least.
Michigan State Police are now asking for your cell phone along with the standard travelling papers you are required to present. If you hand it over, they use a device called UFED to download its contents. Everything. Contacts, texts, GPS data tracking everywhere you have been, photos, videos, notes. Probably even GPS records of how fast you have driven and where, which they could conceivably use as probable cause for the search in the first place, if speeding is what they pulled you over for.

The UFED is not some new tool designed for the police, by the way. A company called CelleBrite produces it for use by your cell phone provider, to program your phone. That brings up another possibility: suppose the police, after downloading your data, upload a backdoor into your phone so they can access it remotely at will? The phones certainly have this capability, as this 2006 story shows, but it may not be accessible to local cops. That immediately changes for any police agency that has a UFED.
The ACLU is fighting this in Michigan, but the police are stonewalling and refusing to give them information. Well, okay, not quite refusing: they have agreed to give them access to some data from five of the UFEDs, for a small administrative fee of just $544,680, a bit over a half million dollars. ACLU must be getting the word out that you are not required to hand over your cell phone though, because TV networks in the Detroit area are airing "public service" ads by the state police advising you to comply if you have nothing to hide.
Believe me, you have everything to hide.

As for my advice in my earlier article to password protect your cellphone, that is no longer enough. UFED bypasses the password. So I would still password protect it, but also never leave the phone out where a cop can see it, and don't reply if he asks for it. Don't lie and say you don't have one, just remain silent on the issue. In fact, I think it would be a good idea to put a lockable container of some sort in your car to keep things you don't want to hand over to cops, and just reach over and lock it anytime you are pulled over or see a roadblock ahead. Preferably, this container will be something that can be locked into the vehicle as well, so bad guys of all description will not be able to easily remove it from your car. It is sad indeed that law-abiding folks need to take such precautions, but that is the way things have gotten here.

Oh, by the way: just because only Michigan is mentioned in the article, don't assume your local or state police aren't doing it too. If they aren't now, it is a near certainty that they will be, or that you will eventually encounter some agency who does.

No comments: