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Michigan State Police reply to ACLU about cell phone data extraction devices

Apr 25, 20114 mins
Data and Information SecurityMicrosoftSecurity

Michigan State Police do not seem pleased with the coverage about its use of high-tech mobile forensic devices to suck out cell phone data in under two minutes. MSP issued this statement which seems to conflict with the ACLU's report.

The Michigan State Police do not seem to appreciate the publicity raining down on it over Fourth Amendment rights and its use of Universal Forensic Extraction Devices (UFED) which can extract data off 95% of cell phones on the market. The ACLU was quoted a half million dollars as the cost of documents associated with a FOIA request. I reported on it last week as State Police can suck data out of cell phones in under two minutes. The MSP issued the following statement:

Click to enlarge.

I asked the ACLU of Michigan if it had a reply to the MSP saying it had worked with the ACLU “to narrow the focus and reduce the cost?” I also asked the ACLU about its reaction to the MSP saying, “the implication that the MSP is using the devices to ‘quietly to bypass Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches’ is untrue and harmful to police and community relations?” ACLU of Michigan staff attorney Mark Fancher responded:

In 2008, when we heard claims that MSP had these devices, we filed our first FOIA request to confirm or disprove this allegation. After many months and after much effort by the ACLU of Michigan, MSP at last produced documents that confirmed that they had the devices. In response to a follow-up request for documents that would provide information about actual use, they conditioned production of the documents on the payment of more than $500,000.

MSP’s references to “cooperation” and “lower costs” relate to that portion of our letter where we describe how our narrowed requests have resulted only in assertions that there are no documents for the specified periods, or that for a fee of a few hundred or a few thousand dollars they will take a look to see whether there are any documents. What they characterize as “cooperation” is almost three years of failing to produce documents for a reasonable fee. We remain unsatisfied.

We don’t believe we should go on an expensive fishing expedition to find out whether MSP is following the law. In fact, we are encouraged that they issued a statement saying that they now have policies and practices in place, but it’s important to know what they did in 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010. The statement does not satisfy our request for documents regarding how these devices were used in practice in the past. I think we have more questions than answers.

In our original release we referenced the fact that if motorists hand over their cellphones they may not know that Michigan State Police have a device that can extract a vast amount of data. We have never accused MSP of violating motorists’ rights, we’ve only asked them to prove that they have not.

We are still hopeful that MSP will honor our Freedom of Information Act requests, after all it is transparency and accountability that are the bedrocks of our democracy.

Hopefully, all this press will result in the MSP and the ACLU coming to terms for an affordable FOIA request and the release of information to the public very soon. Since it has been an ongoing issue since 2007, it’s about time for major results. It seems that inquiring minds do indeed want to know the details of how the UFED devices are being used and how that interacts with our Fourth Amendment rights.

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ms smith

Ms. Smith (not her real name) is a freelance writer and programmer with a special and somewhat personal interest in IT privacy and security issues. She focuses on the unique challenges of maintaining privacy and security, both for individuals and enterprises. She has worked as a journalist and has also penned many technical papers and guides covering various technologies. Smith is herself a self-described privacy and security freak.