The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has criticized the Michigan State Police for using data extractors to access personal information of the people they've pulled over.
The device can extract mobile device data such as text messages, call history, photos, videos, user passwords and file system dumps from a wide variety of cell phones, even when the information has been deleted or is password-protected. It is made by an Israeli company by the name of CelleBrite and has been used by the Michigan State Police for three years to download information during routine stops.
The ACLU has asked for the Michigan State Police to release information regarding the use of those portable devices under the Freedom of Information Act. The ACLU wants to know why the Michigan State Police is using them and what their purpose is. A big concern is that photos or messages that have nothing to do with criminal activity could end up in the wrong hands, and that police officers could abuse that information.
Transparency and government accountability are the bedrocks of our democracy, said Mark P. Fancher, a staff attorney at the ACLU's Michigan Racial Justice Project. Through these many requests for information we have tried to establish whether these devices are being used legally. It's telling that Michigan State Police would rather play this stalling game than respect the public's right to know.
The ACLU filed its first FOIA request in 2008 to acquire the usage records of the CelleBrite device. The only documents the Michigan State Police provided were confirmation of the devices' existence. The Michigan State Police, according to the ACLU, said it would cost $544,680 to disclose how five of the devices are being used. They required the ACLU to pay $272,340 before receiving a single document.
We should not have to go on expensive fishing expeditions in order to discover whether police are violating the rights of residents they have resolved to protect and serve, said Fancher.
The ACLU says the usage of the devices may violate Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches if a warrant is not issued. The ACLU also wants to see if there is a racial issue and if the Michigan State Police is disproportionally downloading the personal information of people of color.
Thus far, the ACLU has yet to file a lawsuit, but one reason is that there is as yet no specific incident that anyone has fought the use of the devices by the state police.
CelleBrite did not respond to an email request for comment.