"The Fourth Amendment protects citizens from unreasonable searches," the letter read, in part (PDF download). "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."
The Michigan State Police have made no public statements giving its end of the story.
The practice is similar to one followed by the Department of Homeland Security, which has decided it is allowed to search, copy or confiscate laptops, cell phones and other electronic devices from people crossing the U.S. border legally, even without any suspicion of wrongdoing.
The national ACLU and several lawyers' associations are suing to overturn that practice on the grounds it violates both First and Fourth Amendment rights of the 6,500 people whose data had been cloned or confiscated as of June of 2010.
Both DHS and the Michigan State Police, btw, are public agencies, subject to the laws of the United States, no matter how strongly members of them believe they belong to fiefdoms that can create their own laws and trample the rights of others with impunity.
They should be allowed to do their jobs, chase the bad guys and even eavesdrop on or confiscate digital data -- within rules specifically designed to keep police and other agencies from
running amok pursuing their investigations too eagerly.
Whether those rules apply to a particular situation or technology is not up to the police agency applying them. It is up to courts who are responsible for drawing the line between appropriately aggressive investigation and police-state tactics based on the principle that everyone is guilty of something and police are within their rights to lie, cheat or steal to get evidence proving it.
Rules against overly aggressive policing exist for a reason. Law enforcement is difficult, dangerous, frustrating work. People who do it are often noble, brave and self-sacrificing.
They're still people, with all the weaknesses the rest of us enjoy, including the temptation to forget about a rule or two when the result is a good one, or would make it much easier for us to do the job we're going to have to do anyway.