Is Your Phone Safe? The Dangers of Police Access to Private Digital Data


A recent report from the Washington, D.C. nonprofit Upturn highlights the privacy and civil rights concerns arising from the use of mobile device forensic tools (MDFTs) by law enforcement agencies in the United States.


Like finding DNA at a crime scene and needing to establish that it was deposited during the commission of the crime, finding suspicious location or photographic evidence on a device doesn’t mean the device owner put it there.

Historically, making that determination is the province of digital forensic examiners, who use the principles of computer science to generate results that are repeatable and reproducible by other forensic experts.

However, digital evidence doesn’t only share forensic value with other forensic traces, like DNA or fingerprints. Because mobile devices are used in the planning and commission of crimes, obtaining the data could mean using their intelligence value to prevent much more serious crimes.

A classic example is the child predator who grooms their victim via text or app messaging. Intercepting that predator before they can abuse their victim hands-on is a compelling argument.

For another example, using data from the mobile phone of an opioid overdose victim could help find their dealer. In turn, taking the dealer out of operation could prevent additional deaths.

However, those are largely investigative functions—not forensic responsibilities.

Moreover, at the same time as its real or perceived value to criminal investigations has increased, digital technology’s advancement has outpaced forensic experts’ ability to keep up with it.

Read more at The Crime Report

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