Michigan State Police use device to search driver cell phones during traffic stops

ACLU rebuffed in FOIA bid to learn more about program using mobile forensics device


Is it Michigan State Police or Michigan Police State?

Hard to tell based on this story in theNewspaper.com, which bills itself as a "journal of the politics of driving."

The Michigan State Police have a high-tech mobile forensics device that can be used to extract information from cell phones belonging to motorists stopped for minor traffic violations.

In other words, if you're pulled over by the Michigan State Police for anything -- an improper turn, a partially obscured license plate, or an officer's whim -- they can search your cell phone using a device called the CelleBrite UFED. That means text messages, photos, videos, contacts, who you've called, what apps you've downloaded, GPS data that reveals where you've been, even deleted data.

[Also see: After dismissing 4th Amendment for FBI, court slams Google for tapping open WiFi and How to hack cell phones better than News of the World]

Fortunately, the American Civil Liberties Union was able to invoke the Freedom of Information Act to learn all about the details of the program. Oh, wait:

ACLU learned that the police had acquired the cell phone scanning devices and in August 2008 filed an official request for records on the program, including logs of how the devices were used. The state police responded by saying they would provide the information only in return for a payment of $544,680.

I didn't know the Michigan State Police was a for-profit enterprise.

The ACLU rightfully "found the charge outrageous," according to theNewspaper.com, and last week it insisted the State Police release records of the program.

So today is April 20. Let's say, just for fun, you've downloaded a clever 4/20 app (for the uninformed, "4/20" is code for marijuana) onto your cell phone. If you get stopped by the Michigan State Police and they scan the data on your phone, does the discovery of that 4/20 app lead to a search of your person, vehicle or even your home? I don't see why it wouldn't.

The ACLU needs to keep pressing on this. I can't think of a more egregious violation of the Fourth Amendment.

Then again, I'm old-school that way. I keep forgetting that if people don't have anything to hide, giving up their Constitution rights shouldn't be a big deal.

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