Last week’s big LulzSec (pre-disbandment) dump of Arizona police info apparently included some documents telling police to search the iPhones of arrestees for specific apps, including OpenWatch, a simple app for recording people (targeted at authorities) without it displaying on the phone that they’re being recorded. The police were also told to look for speed trap identifying apps and an app that lets people spoof caller ID numbers. As we’ve discussed a few times, there are some legal questions about whether or not cops can just search your iPhone during, say, a routine traffic stop, but tragically a few courts have said it’s fine. That seems rather troubling, as the cops can search your phone after just a routine traffic stop… and then potentially get you in more trouble just because they don’t like the types of apps you have?
Separately, the article notes that the Justice Department has been sending around notices to local law enforcement, telling them to be aware that iPhone users have a feature that lets them remotely wipe their phones. This is part of the mobile me service, and the wiping has a perfectly legitimate purpose: to let someone who has lost their phone or had it stolen, to wipe the data from the phone. It’s pretty useful, really. But, to police who are seizing phones and want to search them later, they’re scared that evidence can be destroyed this way, so the Justice Department is telling them to store the phone in Faraday bags to keep them disconnected from any network, so they can’t receive the “wipe” signal.
If they really, really want to get your information, they will get it but it is a good thing to make it a little harder.
But I do wonder what the police would do if they found some of these apps – apps that are perfectly legal to possess. What possible legal reason would there be to look on someone’s phone for these apps?