Mich. State Police confiscate cell data at traffic stops; won't say when or why

ACLU complains of 4th Amendment violations; State Police stonewall requests for explanations


Be careful what you store on your smartphone if you plan to drive in Michigan.

Since at least 2008, State Police in Michigan have been operating under a policy that lets them extract and search all the data on your cell phone without a warrant, without your consent and without any reason to believe you might have done anything wrong.

They extract the data using one of five mobile computer-forensic devices the agency bought from CelleBrite that can bypass your own security and snag all your pictures, text messages, email and documents and even GPS data.

There is no defined policy or statement from the Michigan State Police online announcing or explaining the practice.

In fact, the Michigan branch of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) had to file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request in 2008 to get any records or documentation at all.

It got documentation proving the Michigan State Police had five of the CelleBrite devices, but no indication of how or how often they were being used.

"There is great potential for abuse here by a police officer or a state trooper who may not be monitored or supervised on the street," according to Mark Fancher, an attorney for the ACLU.

Getting detailed records, the MSP claimed, would cost $544,680 to pay for the time and effort of retrieving the data and assembling the documentation describing what the State Police were doing with the cell phone data extractors.

IT asked the ACLU to pay $272,340 as a deposit on that cost before giving up a single document.

To reduce the cost, the ACLU narrowed its request to cover smaller periods of time, rather than asking for all documents related to the seizures.

Each time the Michigan State Police told it that no documents existed for whatever time period the ACLU was asking about and refused to say when the devices had been used and what time period documents might exist covering them, according to the ACLU's version of events.

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Source: CelleBrite

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