Police Downloading All Your Cellphone Data at Traffic Stops

Posted on Sunday, 29th May 2011 @ 10:19 AM by Text Size A | A | A

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Cell phones contain more private information about you and your
activities than just about anything else.  They keep track of where you
are at all times, everyone you call or text, email, social networking,
photos, videos, personal files and much more. Would you want strangers
to have access to all of this data?


Michigan State Police Search Cell Phones On A Massive Scale


Michigan State Police have reportedly been downloading data from cell phones of
motorists that get pulled over for minor infractions like speeding, as
if 8 million warrantless requests to Sprint weren’t
enough. They use a special piece of hardware to download all of the data
on the phone, including information the user has deleted.


What makes matters worse, the MSP are refusing to turn over
information about the data they extract, procedures to get the data or
why they get data unless a fee of $500,000 is paid.  Does anyone know
the average ransom paid to Somali pirates?


Violation Of Anyone’s Rights Is A Threat To Everyone’s Rights


Even if you are a completely honest person and think you have nothing
to hide, think again.  There are over 10,000 recorded laws in the US.
Most honest people probably violate the law on a regular basis whether
they know it or not.


If the police have access to such huge amounts of data about you, it
can reveal violations of obscure, bureaucratic laws that you have never heard of.  Or,
that data could provide circumstantial evidence wrongly implicating you
in crimes you had nothing to do with.  That is assuming that no police
officer will make improper use of the data.  If you have read a single
article on CopBlock, you know that abuse is very possible.


Here is what you can do to protect yourself from overzealous police
who try to search your phone without cause.


Police Can Search Some Things


The law allows police to do a quick pat down to check for weapons
when they stop you.  There is not much more that they can do to search
you unless your give them permission or they arrest you.


Hopefully you can avoid arrest, but Michigan State Police officers
might be very diligent in trying to get you to consent to a search of
your phone.


How To Prevent A Search Of Your Cell


The key is to politely refuse their request. One of the best ways to
avoid  giving consent is to clearly and politely say  “ I do not consent
to any searches.”


If they are asking, they probably don’t have enough cause to search
your phone without your consent.  Refusing to give consent alone cannot
give police sufficient grounds to search without your consent.  If they
continue to search your phone, that search will likely be
unconstitutional and any evidence obtained as a result of that search
will be considered fruit of the poisonous tree and be thrown out.


“I Don’t Consent To Any Searches”


You should learn this phrase well and use it any time an officer asks
to search you, your car, your backpack, your house, your wallet, or
asks for your cell phone.  Just because they ask for a cell phone does
not mean that you have to provide it.


Knowing your rights is the best way to protect your private data from
overzealous police.  But the law and the government can’t always
protect you.  Here are some ways to have better cell phone security, especially if you plan on
encountering law enforcement.


Protect Yourself


Don’t carry a cell phone.  This may be useful if you
are going to a protest or rally where you expect a heavy police
presence, and it may be a good excuse for some people who want to
un-tether themselves from the matrix.  It probably won’t be practical
for every day use or chance encounters with police.


Use a prepaid cell phone.  If you buy them with cash and replace them regularly, they
will not have a large amount of data on them.  The less data available
the better.


Regularly wipe your cell phone.  Getting rid of old
data on a regular basis will also reduce the data available.  Every make
of phone has a different way to do this so check with your phone
company to see how.


Encrypt as much of your phone as possible.  This can
be very tricky because  encrypted  emails, secure text messaging, storing
encrypted files, and anonymous web surfing are more difficult on your
phone than your laptop.  You may need a separate application to encrypt
each type of data and not all phones are created equal in the security
department. Fortunately, the Fifth Amendment protects people from revealing
their encryption keys.


Use call forwarding services.  This is not
foolproof, but using a free or paid call forwarding service can reduce the
amount of data stored directly on your phone, adding an extra step the
Michigan State Police will have to take to get your data.


File an official complaint with the police
department.  Complaints about any officer that unjustly takes or
searches your phone after you have refused consent may be the kind of
record that will help someone successfully sue that officer or the
police department in the future for improper conduct.




Michigan State Police are downloading the data on people’s phones on a
massive scale.  This kind of data mining can be prevented by people who
stand up for their rights.  Don’t consent to letting a police officer
search your phone.  Help them to better spend their time protecting
people and property from real crime. Learn more
ways to protect your private data
to protect yourself from
overzealous police and lots of other threats.


— Bill Rounds is a California attorney

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