US law enables police to use forensic tools that download call logs, text messages, geo-location, and proprietary technology data from suspectâ€™s smartphones without a warrant, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
The ACLU revealed a court document that outlines the type and amount of information collected by advanced forensic tools when a suspectâ€™s device is under investigation. From visited wireless networks, web history, and data files to cell towers and emails, law enforcement officers can retrieve every byte of data stored on a device, the ACLU said.
The question of legality over searching a suspectsâ€™ phone without a warrant is controversial as courts are divided on whether a warrant is needed or not. Since emails are stored locally, sending subpoenas to email service providers may be avoided as forensic tools only retrieve data stored on the smartphone.
â€œThe type of data stored on a smartphone can paint a near-complete picture of even the most private details of someoneâ€™s personal life,â€ writes the ACLU. â€œCall history, voicemails, text messages and photographs can provide a catalogue of howâ€”and with whomâ€”a person spends his or her time, exposing everything from intimate photographs to 2 AM text messages.â€
While the issue of warrants is questionable for U.S. citizens, a person entering the US is not protected by the Fourth Amendment. As such, law enforcement officers do not need warrants to search the smartphone of someone crossing the countryâ€™s borders and can deny them passage if they refuse to comply.
Warning that smartphones hold a great deal of personal and sensitive data that can be easily accessed, privacy advocates believe governments could easily have access to it as well.
â€œWe would have never carried around several yearsâ€™ worth of correspondence [on our person], for exampleâ€”but today, five-year-old emails are just a few clicks away using the smartphone in your pocket,â€ according to the ACLU. â€œThe fact that we now carry this much private, sensitive information around with us means that the government is able to get this information, too.â€
Concluding that smartphone forensic tools can be used to collect all data from a suspectsâ€™ smartphone, the ACLU encourages people to use encryption software and complex passwords to protect their private data.