Here’s How Much Of Your Seized iPhone’s Info Can Be Used By The Government Against You

A document submitted to court during a drug investigation shows exactly what information can be used from your smartphone–and it throws up some interesting civil liberty questions.

Here’s How Much Of Your Seized iPhone’s Info Can Be Used By The Government Against You

Question: How much of the data on your phone can the police use to build a case in a criminal prosecution? Answer: pretty much all of it. The American Civil Liberties Union has discovered, thanks to documents submitted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (which last year replaced agents’ BlackBerries with iPhones) in 2012 regarding a drug investigation, just what the government agencies gleaned from an iPhone seized from a suspect’s bedroom.

Call activity, contacts, voice mails and SMS data, photos, videos, apps, geolocation points, cell towers, and Wi-Fi networks were all fair game, as were the eight different passwords found on the device. The ICE officers had obtained two separate warrants, one for the search of the house and another to search the contents of the smartphone.

A warrant is not, however, always obligatory, the ACLU points out (both border and incident-to-arrest searches are exempt). And with technology such as portable forensics machines, which can extract and download just about every kind of data from a smartphone, including deleted information, even stuff you might classify as private could be used in court against you.

The ACLU’s advice is this: Always use a PIN or password on your smartphone, preferably one that is more than four characters long. And if your OS offers a disk encryption option–Android 4.0, for example–turn it on.

How much personal information should the government be able to get off a person’s smartphone? What is the best way to strike a balance between crime-busting and civil liberties, or is everyone fair game? Tell us what you think in the comments–we won’t use it against you.

[Image from the wonderful All in the Game artwork by Dennis Culver. You can buy it here]

About the author

My writing career has taken me all round the houses over the past decade and a half--from grumpy teens and hungover rock bands in the U.K., where I was born, via celebrity interviews, health, tech and fashion in Madrid and Paris, before returning to London, where I now live. For the past five years I've been writing about technology and innovation for U.S.