The year may be 2011 in the rest of the country, but in Michigan it is 1984 all over again. State police there have been using a high-tech "toy" that enables them to extract information from the cell phones of motorists stopped for routine traffic violations.
The device, the CelleBrite UFED, is capable of grabbing photos, video, and GPS data from an iPhone in as little as 90 seconds. It is compatible with 3000 different models of phone and can even circumvent password protection. The gadget would be impressive if its use weren’t so frightening, not to mention a frontal assault on the Fourth Amendment, which protects Americans against unreasonable searches and seizures.
The American Civil Liberties Union has long known about the UFEDs, which have been in use since before 2008. In that year, the ACLU filed a request for records on the program, including logs of how the devices had been used. The state police replied that the information would be made available in return for a “processing fee” of $544,680.
Last week, the Michigan ACLU accused state officials of stonewalling freedom of information requests for information on the program. An attorney for the organization, Mark Fancher, wrote:
"With certain exceptions that do not apply here, a search cannot occur without a warrant in which a judicial officer determines that there is probable cause to believe that the search will yield evidence of criminal activity. A device that allows immediate, surreptitious intrusion into private data creates enormous risks that troopers will ignore these requirements to the detriment of the constitutional rights of persons whose cell phones are searched."
Francher told a Detroit TV station that law enforcement officers encourage citizens to cooperate if they have nothing to hide, adding:
"This should be something that they [the state police] are handing over freely, and that they should be more than happy to share with the public—the routines and the guidelines that they follow."