Police Extracting Private Cell Phone Data... Can we use this for arsonists? Is this even legal?

1984 by George Orwell...

A recent facebook post from a FFN member shared something that to me was a complete surprise and even just a little Orwellian. There are obvious benefits from a law enforcement viewpoint but as a private citizens, it could be considered a total invasion of privacy. I had not heard of this and found it interesting enough to post here on the FFN. There are many implications that could prove to be beneficial for the fire service but at what cost for our personal freedom and privacy?


Cellebrite® Cell Phone Extraction Device for Law Enforcement

This is the Cellebrite Cell Phone Extraction Device (UFED) and it can be used by police to extract your cell phone data during a routine traffic stop. The UFED comes in a rugged, road-ready case with all the connectors needed to grab info from almost every type of cell phone and portable GPS unit.


After the officer gets hold of your phone, the device is connected to the Cellebrite UFED scanner and a screen pops up to select the cell phone model. As you can see from just the top few, many of the popular phones are represented.


The next screen shows what data can be pulled from the phone, which the officer will then select from.


After the data has been snagged from the cell phone, it's stored on a USB flash drive. The officer can then load the data into Cellebrite's app to analyze in an easy to read interface.


Even deleted call history, text messages, images, phonebook entries and videos can easily be recovered in seconds. The app shows how much deleted data was recovered in red.


How much data can actually be extracted? A software program called Lantern from Katana Forensics, which was recently detailed on the tech blog Gizmodo @ http://gizmo.do/kKbzkq. Although Lantern is not the same software Cellebrite uses, its a similar law-enforcement-grade data extraction application, which can nab surprising amounts of data from an iPhone. After a simple extraction that takes only a few minutes, Lantern can easily access all contacts, call logs, voicemails, text messages (deleted ones too), all notes, recent map searches, Facebook contacts, all locations (WiFi and Cellular), and current and deleted photos.


With the information above, officials could discover your exact past locations for as long as you've owned your phone. There is even a 'map this item' button that will bring up Google Maps, displaying the location. Luckily, this application isn't available for jealous girlfriends or unwanted admirers. Only law enforcement and government officials are able to gain access to Lantern. (We were able to get a short demo version made available to the press.)


Photo credit: dwightsghost, Flickr @ http://flic.kr/p/5hK1oz

These tools can be very useful to law enforcement. Say, for example, a homicide was being investigated. Officers would be able to scan cell phone data to obtain the whereabouts of a suspect or victim in hopes of gaining more insight into the investigation. Legally, during traffic stops, officers need a warrant to search your cell phone; however, if you give them your phone voluntarily, they can use these tools to search it.

From an arson investigator's viewpoint, this would be an amazing tool to have, putting the bad guy at the location where the fire was... In this information age, coupled with smart phones, I wonder how the fire service will make use of these tools as a result of most folks being tied to their phone?

It sure brings to question whether or not this is legal to do. What do you think?

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Very scary.  Although like the article says, legally the Police need a warrant to search your cell phone, but not if you voluntarily hand it over.  Although I can't help but wonder what about if you're arrested?  As they inventory all of your property, it would be an easy task to dump all the info from your phone.  Yet another reason why I like to stay on the right side of the law!  Stay safe!
Holy Sheeet! BZY

Since this is the first time I've heard about this and this is probably not widespread, I won't get too worried right now. Although, at this point I do side moreso with the invasion of privacy front than a benefit front.


I could understand if there were laws about driving and talking or texting on a phone and that is the reason to be pulled over. If one really wasn't such a device would show that. However, that is the only thing I could see a reason for this, everything else looks like invasion of privacy. Really what reason is there to download a cell phone for an ordinary traffic stop etc?


If worrying if a person committed a crime, well guess what, get a damn warrant then. There is no reason to arbitrarily check a person's cell phone arbitrarily, even if you suspect something. If you suspect something then make an arrest, get the warrant and proceed accordinly, because I guarantee you, that would be my approach. Do I have something to hide by my phone history? No, but what is it to them? You want to know, get a warrant.



So as that aspect goes, I don't see the practicality of this for PD, especially on patrol units, because if there is a need to get a cell phone Hx, PD can do this by obtaining a warrant, etc, otherwise what use is it for a random traffic stop?


There could be a "use" for such technology, but keep it at the station, not on patrol cars.

I'm not sure how this is any different than Police pulling data off a suspects PC at his house when he is arrested fro something. Wither way, it requires a warrant/court order to perform the data extraction. Don't carry your PC around with you like your phone, you say? What if a suspect is arrested while taking his PC to Best Buy to have it tuned up? What if that suspect allowed Police to search his vehicle and they seized his PC because they thought he committed a crime?

If there's Probable Cause, it's very easy for police to obtain a search warrant for data on the machine. A cellphone/smart phone is just a small computer and if a suspect is taken into custody for an alleged crime and Police believe he used his phone in connection with the crime, then they just call and get a warrant then extract the data.

Seems like a "no brainer" to me. We do have the Fourth Amendment, which, although sometimes violates, does a pretty good job of protecting people under U.S, jurisdiction from unlawful searches and seizures.





I think the one thing that worries me is having an officer take your cell phone on a traffic stop. This is much different that someone being booked into jail or a raid on someone's home (with a search warrant) because they broke the law. What's not defined here is just what kind of law or severity of the infraction that justifies law enforcement from accessing and downloading private data. Does a broken brake light or not coming to a complete stop justify this type of invasion of privacy?

Does a broken brake light or not coming to a complete stop justify this type of invasion of privacy?


No, it doesn't. There is absolutely no reason for an officer to pull someone over and check their cell phone data. This isn't like a suspected DUI where you can use a brake light or swerve as reason to stop, or like for drugs and use as a reason to stop and thus ask to search. There really is no reason to look at one's cellphone for any reason by such a stop.


Really such a device seems to be more of a waste of money than to provide an actually reason for such a cost. There are enough recourses for LE now that they shouldn't need such a thing, let alone on patrol cars.

A little scary that technology has come to this.  I dont think this is a technology that we are going to see widespread use of for quite sometime, simply due to its cost.  The only time I could see probable cause for this device being used is for a traffic stop for texting while driving, if thats against the law where you are.  But the possibilities for using it in Arson situations is very interesting.  I'm not sure how the laws work everywhere but there are many areas where the fire department takes ownership of the property when responding to and mitigating a fire and retain that control (and the right to collect and remove evidence) as long as a FD member remains on scene within a reasonable time frame.  So in theory if you find a cell phone in plain sight somewhere on the property you could do a data dump on it as evidence in an ongoiong arson investigation.  This would have to assume two things though an arsonist was dumb enough to loose or forget his phone and two the phone surrvived the fire and supression efforts enough to retain any data.  Any other situation find probable cause and secure a warrant.  Ill say this though I'm not gonna look at my iphone the same way again.

as far as the cellbrite not being widespread there is one in just about every cell phone retailer in the country that does data transfer from your old to new phone, I used to work for a retailer and this is almost the exact system we used just a bit more updated than ours

Transferring data from one cellphone to another is quite a bit different than utilizing the same technology for random traffic stops or to arbitrarily check someone's cell phone history. As I stated before, you want to know, get a warrant, no reason for this technology to just be arbitrarily used.

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