ACLU: What are Michigan police doing with cell-phone copying technology?

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is demanding police in Michigan disclose what they’re using CelleBrite “high-tech mobile forensics device[s]” for, and say the law enforcement agency is “stonewalling” their many requests for information about the device’s role in investigations and perhaps even traffic stops.

To be fair, the Michigan State Police haven’t out and out denied the ACLU’s requests since the civil rights organization began asking about the program in 2008. They’ve just demanded upwards of half a million bucks to reveal information about how the devices are used and if they’ve been applied in legally grey ways during searches.

A lawyer for the ACLU made a very good point in case briefings, asking why cops aren’t being asked to adhere to the same standard of transparency expected of ordinary citizens:

“Law enforcement officers are known, on occasion, to encourage citizens to cooperate if they have nothing to hide,” ACLU staff attorney Mark P. Fancher wrote. “No less should be expected of law enforcement, and the Michigan State Police should be willing to assuage concerns that these powerful extraction devices are being used illegally by honoring our requests for cooperation and disclosure.”

CrunchGear writer Devin Coldewey pointed out that there’s no indication law enforcement officials are using the technology in a way that impinges on individual rights and that the issue really boils down to citizens being aware of the existence of such devices and how they may be used to build a case. To that I would reply “fuck that noise,” and counter that we’re in a scary age of legal precedent being set every day to protect individual rights as technology becomes a vast and increasing source of potentially incriminating evidence for police and prosecutors.

Fancher, the ACLU’s attorney in the case, details why the use of such a device should rightly frighten and concern anyone who values their fourth amendment protections:

“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,” Fancher wrote. “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.”

Do you think the Michigan State Police should come clean here? Is there anything on your cellphone that could be used to damage you in court, even if it isn’t technically illegal? Do you subscribe to the idea that if you have nothing to hide, this isn’t an issue?

[Source via reddit]