ACLU complains of Michigan State police scanning iPhones during routine traffic stops

“Are cops allowed to snoop through your cellphone during an ordinary traffic stop? According to an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) letter to the director of the Michigan State Police on April 13, that department has several forensic cellphone analyzers deployed in the field,” Glenn Derene reports for Popular Mechanics.

“Forensic analyzers are routinely used in police investigations to recover data from computers and other digital devices,” Derene reports. “Lately, cellphones have become valuable sources of evidence for police, since one phone can include almost all of an individual’s private communications (SMS, recently dialed numbers, email, Facebook and Twitter posts) as well as location data from the device’s GPS unit. The device used by the Michigan State Police is a portable forensic system called the Cellebrite UFED that can suck data from a variety of devices, including… Apple iOS devices such as the iPhone and iPad.”

MacDailyNews Note: According to Cellebrite’s website, their system can scan over 3,000 handset models, with monthly software updates for newly released devices prior to carrier launch. The system includes more than 85 data cables for connecting 95% of all handset models worldwide. Cellebrite has exclusive carrier agreements and works directly with cellular phone manufacturers to receive pre-production handsets prior to retail launch. Cellebrite’s system claims complete extraction of mobile phone data – Contacts, SMS Messages, photos, videos, call logs (dialed, received, missed), ESN/IMEI, audio files, and deleted SMS/Call History from the SIM/USIM.

Derene reports, “This type of forensic device is nothing new, but the ACLU’s concern is that the UFED mobile units might have been used in routine traffic stops—which, the ACLU contends, would violate the Fourth Amendment’s protections against unreasonable search and seizure. [Florida State University’s Fourth Amendment expert Wayne Logan] told us that there is currently disagreement in the courts about whether cellphones, and smartphones in particular, can be searched after a person is arrested. ‘One way of looking at it is that phones are just like any other container. Let’s say I’m stopped for speeding and the police find cocaine, and then I’m arrested for cocaine possession; the police could search my car. They could also search any duffel bags that were in my car, and let’s say that I had a box of notecards—they could search that. If [an officer] can search that container of notecards, the question becomes: Can he also search my iPhone, which also contains note cards of a sort? But the other argument is that it differs completely in kind, since the type of information on the phone is so different.'”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: Can o’ worms.


  1. I think in Canada they need a warrant and generally protection of civil liberties is a cornerstone of democracy .My problem is that as a bicycle commuter , I see an awful lot of people either talking or texting on their phone while driving which is both very dangerous and illegal here . If observed i think this should constitute probable cause to examine the device .

  2. Interesting … Our company (located in Michigan) just had a MI State Trooper in to speak on Safe Driving. One of the topics he covered was Texting and Driving. He stated that in Jackson County, MI that over the last year or so there were only 5 Tickets issued for texting while driving.
    One reason he cited was that a police officer was not allowed to take your phone during a traffic stop. An officer can request to see your phone, but you can refuse to relinquish it. it may be a different thing after an arrest.
    Can you do a MobileMe wipe from the phone, itself?

    Thanks ACLU!

    1. EPIC, EFF, ACLU and others are doing good work every day on issues like this. Anyone can join or support these organizations, sign petitions they sponsor, or send an e-mail thanking them for the good work they do.
      BTW-Woz was a founder of either EPICor EFF.

  3. Who cares. As my mother used to say: “If you weren’t doing anything wrong in the first place, you shouldn’t have to worry.”

    Why have all this great technology able to make law enforcement’s job more accurate and less guess-work if you aren’t going to let them use it?

    If I was accused of something and I knew I was innocent, I’d suggest they take the phone and search it before they even asked for it—nothing to hide. I’d be happy the phone would provide concrete proof I was telling the truth and therefore innocent. Go find the real criminal please, and let me go on my way.

    1. What part of the following quote didn’t you understand?

      “The police and the DA are not always interested in catching ‘the right person’. They’re interested in a conviction from whatever they can come up with. If they have evidence they can use against you, THEY WILL. They tell you so in miranda, and they’re not kidding. You’d be amazed what they can find and how they can spin it to implicate you. If they can search your phone, which contains more information that even you probably realize, then there’s a pretty good chance that they’ll find something to help nail you if they really want to.”

    2. Utter bullshit. Pull your head out of the sand.

      A choice quote: “Of the 124 exonerations of death row inmates in America from 1973 to 2007 indicated that 80, or about two-thirds, of their so-called wrongful convictions resulted not from good-faith mistakes or errors but from intentional, willful, malicious prosecutions by criminal justice personnel.”

      There was another opinion piece I wanted to post, written by an actual victim of such malicious prosecution, but couldn’t find it after a quick search. Briefly, prosecutors had evidence that clearly backed up his claim he wasn’t at the murder victim’s home. They hid this from the defence, and for good measure pinned two other, completely unrelated murders on him, just so they could say they’d “solved” them, and he was convicted and put on death row. Only some determined digging by his defence team uncovered this deception before they executed an innocent person.

      There’s the original criminal(s) in that story, the murderer(s), but the more heinous criminals, those under colour of authority (police, prosecution, AG) are still at their jobs, no punishment to them for conspiring to kill an innocent man.

      1. Addendum: I know there’s a long stretch between traffic violations and capital crimes; but the point is if the prosecution is willing to lie and twist evidence to support their side in a case that will result in execution, do you think they’ll think twice about fabricating a charge from data they copy from your phone?

        And what if one of your buddies left some of his stash of whatever in your car, and you never knew that side of him, and you let them search your car? You did nothing wrong, hell you had no clue, but you’re still going to get nailed with possession.

        1. It wouldn’t take much. All someone has to do is send you a text that says “The plan to assassinate the president has been initiated.” It doesn’t matter who. It doesn’t matter why. All they have to do is find something that they can hook on to and you’re pretty much at their mercy. Sure, you may not be guilty of anything in the end, but if that makes you think you ‘have nothing to worry about’, you’re dreaming. They could easily drag you through the court system to scare you into pleading it to a lower charge. And rather than take the risk of fighting it you might have to. And you’ll them be stuck with that conviction, court costs, and a river of stress and anguish to paddle up for the next few moths or years.

          My answer to “I haven’t done anything wrong.” is…
          “Yes you have, the police just haven’t told you what it was yet.”

    3. “If you weren’t doing anything wrong in the first place, you shouldn’t have to worry.”

      Unmitigated horse crap. There are a thousand things millions of people do everyday that are entirely legal and yet if made public, could cost you your reputation, your job, and your family. Only a slave to authority buys that “nothing to hide” crap.

  4. I’ve got nothing to hide, but I say no. If the policeman asking you has a 14 year old at home he knows he has just hit ‘probable cause’. So, in a Kafkan way it is your ‘no’ that makes you sign on the dotted line

  5. The idea that my phone could be searched as part of a traffic stop scares the ever living crap out of me. Containers sure. Go ahead. My phone is not a container. Its a computer. No other way to look at it. The amount of information it can access and store is ridiculous. I am in no way comfortable letting anyone search my phone without presenting a warrant to my face. It would feel violated and I think all of my facebook friends would too, since using my phone they can hop on the facebook app and start searching their PRIVATE profiles. Look you just violated 200 peoples privacy in addition to mine.

    Are not computers held differently in the case of searching cars?

  6. “The system includes more than 85 data cables for connecting 95% of all handset models worldwide.”

    I hope that Cellebrite has an Apple license for their dock connector! Perhaps they get around that by using a USB interconnect to an Apple cable…

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