It's a generally accepted conclusion that, absent exigent circumstances, police may not search an undetained person's cell phone without a warrant or prior permission.
According to the ACLU, Michigan State Police, armed with cell phone extraction devices, has been violating this principle, illegally culling information from cell phones during traffic stops.
For Michigan State Police, cell phone data is an important part of many criminal investigations, which is why the agency purchased the commercially available Data Extraction Devices in 2006.
In 2008, a credible informant told the ACLU that the Michigan State Police cell phone scanners were secretly being used and without warrants, reports ABC News. The group subsequently filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking information.
As of Wednesday, that request had yet to be fulfilled, which is why the ACLU went public with this information.
In response, Michigan State Police later issued a public statement stating that it only uses the devices if a warrant has been obtained or if there is consent.
Until the ACLU receives the requested information on the Michigan State Police cell phone scanners, no one will know the truth. But what if the allegations are verified?
Hypothetically, the state will need to conduct a review of all convictions that relied on or introduced illegally obtained cell phone evidence.
This could be a long, drawn out process wherein a number of convictions are overturned, restitution is requested, and new charges are filed. In effect, it could cost the state a lot of money.
- Michigan police can scan your phone's data in less than 2 minutes (Geek.com)
- Searches and Seizures: The Limitations of the Police (FindLaw)
- California Supreme Court Allows Warrantless Cellphone Searches (FindLaw's Decided)
- Supreme Court Rules Against Police on Warrantless Searches of Vehicles (FindLaw Blotter)