Police in all 50 states have forensic tools to collect data from smartphones

Shawn Knight

Posts: 12,683   +124
Staff member
Editor's take: I’ve been preaching for years to anyone that will listen that when it comes to technology, you should have no reasonable expectation of privacy. New research from Upturn, a nonprofit based in Washington DC, further solidifies that stance.

Over the course of 2019 and into 2020, Upturn filed more than 110 public record requests with state and local law enforcement agencies to determine which have access to forensic tools to collect data from smartphones and how they use them.

While some are still under the impression that such tools only exist in the world of spy movies, that’s far from accurate. Others might underestimate an agency's’ ability to acquire these tools due to their cost or complexity but according to Upturn’s findings, that is also wishful thinking.

The nonprofit found that at least 2,000 law enforcement agencies, representing all 50 states and the District of Columbia, have purchased products sold by mobile device forensic tool vendors. Since 2015, agencies have conducted “hundreds of thousands of cellphone extractions,” often without a warrant.

Upturn noted that law enforcement has used the tools across a range of cases, from serious crimes down to more minor offenses involving things like graffiti, public intoxication and parole violations.

Smartphones have never been more ubiquitous. For better or for worse, people’s entire lives now play out on their phones. Think of it as a “window into the soul.” And one that, even if you have a password-protected device, isn’t ever really fully private.

If you are at all interested in personal privacy, I would encourage you to read Upturn's report. It's lengthy but also quite insightful, and may forever change how you approach mobile phone security.

Masthead credit: Fractal Pictures

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QuantumPhysics

Posts: 3,720   +3,616
I imagine them picking up a dead/dismembered hand and using the fingers to unlock iPhone....or their dead face with their eyes opened to get past facial unlock.
 
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kimo1

Posts: 140   +233
The gov always has access to dozens of 0-day exploits which are present for many generations. Very few exploits actually become public.
There's even conspiracy that gov pays companies to produce exploitable updates for software which are probed by pesky security experts way too often.
And then there are some bizarre exceptions. Like when target company has more money than gov.
 

brucek

Posts: 576   +694
TechSpot Elite
For me the issue is not with the raw ability to extract data, which ideally should be available when used in compliance with a warrant seeking specified data in conjunction with probable cause.

For me the issue is with police being able to take and store all data for any and all reasons, including such as a routine traffic stop (which could even be a pretext in and of itself.)

Technology has moved a lot faster than our legislative process. Hopefully our laws and precedents will eventually catch up to restore the same balance we've had in the non-digital world for a long time.
 

Hexic

Posts: 801   +874
TechSpot Elite
There has been mass surveillance of citizens on all forms of the ‘modern’ communication standard of the time for the last 25+ years.

It still surprises me that when Snowden leaked all of those NSA surveillance programs, everyone was completely shocked and up in arms. What a dreamland the majority of society lived (and still lives) in.
 

Avro Arrow

Posts: 367   +385
How to fight back by weaponizing your data:

Keep a copy of the infamous "Two Girls, One Cup" (I'm so thankful that I've never seen it) video on your phone but call it something like "RiskyBusiness.mp4" and keep it in a badly-hidden folder called "Do Not Show To Police".

If they take your phone, try not to giggle uncontrollably because some things cannot be un-seen. :p
 

Kirby1

Posts: 39   +53
For me the issue is not with the raw ability to extract data, which ideally should be available when used in compliance with a warrant seeking specified data in conjunction with probable cause.

For me the issue is with police being able to take and store all data for any and all reasons, including such as a routine traffic stop (which could even be a pretext in and of itself.)

Technology has moved a lot faster than our legislative process. Hopefully our laws and precedents will eventually catch up to restore the same balance we've had in the non-digital world for a long time.
Well, they do need a warrant to search your phone and they definitely can't do it at a traffic stop.
 
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JamesBlond

Posts: 30   +14
There has been mass surveillance of citizens on all forms of the ‘modern’ communication standard of the time for the last 25+ years.

It still surprises me that when Snowden leaked all of those NSA surveillance programs, everyone was completely shocked and up in arms. What a dreamland the majority of society lived (and still lives) in.
Most people who dont know dont believe and those who find out cant believe the Gov is so corrupt, this is all because of a simple fact.... "There are none as blind as those who chose not to see"
 

Markoni35

Posts: 818   +300
LOL. I'm much more worried about private corporations, thousands of them, having all kind of data from our computers and cellphones they shouldn't have access to. Not to mention hackers working not just for criminals, but also for various cabals, that have access to everything. In particular, Google has access to a lot more data than a private corporation should. They know almost everything about almost everyone. That's a much bigger danger.