Cops’ Easy Access to Suspects’ iPhone Info Raises Privacy Concerns

Published May 31, 2016

Those who think an iPhone is only for saving address book entries may be surprised to learn police are using the devices’ saved data caches to catch criminals. Global Positioning Satellite technology on the phone enables police to pinpoint precise locations and compare that information with statements made by suspects.
Phone applications and one’s browser history can also be used in harassment case investigations, and memory saved from past e-mails and even unsaved drafts can be accessed during police investigations.
The increasing recognition that personal handheld devices retain information usable as evidence against owners by police investigators and prosecutors has piqued the interest of parties on both sides of the privacy issue. Advocates of allowing the use of the information argue it provides an invaluable tool for effective law enforcement, but opponents chafe at these measures as an invasion of privacy.
“Certainly with things like that there is always going to be privacy implications, and there is some question for lawyers there, but all-in-all if technology can be used to catch criminals who are in fact guilty, that’s a positive thing,” said Evan Peterson, communications director of the Sam Adams Alliance in Chicago.
Fear of Fishing Expeditions
Privacy concerns and the constitutional right of individuals not to incriminate themselves may necessitate new legislation, says Nick Dranias, director of the Center for Constitutional Government at the Goldwater Institute.
“The best way to prevent a governmental fishing expedition into private personal information that may result from iPhones keeping records of personal activities is: One, to tighten standards required for the government to obtain search warrants of electronic devices, and two, to allow individuals a reasonable opportunity to ask a court to intervene and protect their privacy before law enforcement is allowed to access their personal, electronically stored information,” Dranias said.
Dranias continued. “This is a separate issue from whether manufactures of iPhones or other devices should be regulated. If there is actual demand for privacy in electronic devices, such demand will naturally punish iPhone and reward more privacy-sensitive competitors. If there is no such demand or if the demand is minimal, there is no reason to be concerned.
“Apart from preventing the government from abusing its search and seizure authority, the marketplace should be allowed to determine what level of privacy is appropriate to electronic devices,” he added.
Krystle Russin ([email protected]) writes from Texas.