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Police: iPhones Store Incriminating Evidence

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By Jason Beahm on September 09, 2010 12:38 PM

Perhaps the most important rule of criminal defense: don't incriminate yourself. The vast majority of the time, police obtain incriminating evidence directly from the defendant, either by way of a confession or by giving consent to a search. The U.S. Constitution gives everyone the right to stay quiet and force the police and prosecution to build their own case, without the assistance of the accused. If defendants suddenly started properly asserting their rights, criminal defense attorneys would have a lot less work.

With the rise of smartphone technology, criminal defendants are now giving away troves of incriminating evidence without realizing it. How? By storing records of their criminal activity on their iPhones.

USA Today recently profiled the work of former hacker Jonathan Zdziarski, who created a how-to manual for finding information on the iPhone entitled "iPhone Forensics." Zdziarski now works with law-enforcement to teach them how to gather data from iPhones for evidence in criminal cases.

"These devices are people's companions today," said Zdziarski, 34, USA Today reports. "They're not mobile phones anymore. They organize people's lives. And if you're doing something criminal, something about it is probably going to go through that phone."

The article went on to detail a number of holes in the iPhone that police can exploit in a criminal investigation to obtain incriminating evidence:

  • The iPhone maps program stores screenshots of maps that you have accessed. Police can obtain a warrant use the screenshots to prove where you have been, and when.
  • iPhone photos embed tags that can include GPS coordinates of where the picture was taken and the serial number of the phone that took it.
  • Some of the applications store the user's browser history. Police can use that history to see what defendants have been searching for...potentially damaging information.

Getting rid of the information is not as easy as simply deleting it. Some of the information remains on the phone and skilled hackers know how to access it.

So what to do? Well, for starters, if you are actively participating in criminal activity, you could stop. That's a pretty simple solution. However, whether you are breaking the law or not, it would be wise to take basic steps to protect your iPhone, such as adding a password. Although a hacker like Zdziarski can probably overcome a password, it's unlikely that most people who are interested in obtaining your private information have that kind of capability. In addition, be more cognizant of what you are inputting into your iPhone. If it's something related to illegal activity, it might come back to bite you.

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