| Thursday October 30th 2014

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ACLU to Michigan cops: Stop searching mobile phones during traffic stops


iPhone tracking

The ACLU is trying to get the Michigan state cops to stop dumping mobile phone storage during routine traffic stops. At present the Michigan troopers use something called a Cellebrite UFE that slurps up recently dialed numbers, SMSes, Facebook/Twitter posts, emails, bookmarks, Web history, cookies, notes, MMS, IMs, lists of recent Bluetooth devices, journeys, GPS fixes, call logs, and a list of your contacts.

According to the ACLU’s letter, the organization requested usage logs from the Michigan troopers’ devices, but the state police requested more than half a million dollars to pay for retrieval of the documents and records, which the ACLU claims is unreasonably high. In a statement to PM, Tiffany Brown of the Michigan State Police said: “The Michigan State Police will provide information in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). As with any FOIA request under statute, there may be a processing fee to search for, retrieve, review, examine and separate exempt materials, if any.”We wanted to know exactly how the Fourth Amendment applies when it came to traffic stops and phones, so we spoke with Fourth Amendment expert Wayne Logan, at the Florida State University. “One way to conceive of the Fourth Amendment is as an off-and-on switch,” he says. “It’s not on if it’s not a search or a seizure, and it’s not on if the citizen consents to the search or seizure.” Logan told us that there is currently disagreement in the courts about whether cellphones, and smartphones in particular, can be searched after a person is arrested. “One way of looking at it is that phones are just like any other container. Let’s say I’m stopped for speeding and the police find cocaine, and then I’m arrested for cocaine possession; the police could search my car. They could also search any duffel bags that were in my car, and let’s say that I had a box of notecards–they could search that. If [an officer] can search that container of notecards, the question becomes: Can he also search my iPhone, which also contains note cards of a sort? But the other argument is that it differs completely in kind, since the type of information on the phone is so different.” Logan agrees that, if not under arrest, a citizen is under no legal obligation to surrender a phone. But it is unclear whether people have been volunteering their phones to the Michigan State Police or police seized those phones during arrests.

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