Documentation from a search warrant of an iPhone obtained by the ACLU shows that government officials can obtain a lot of information from seized smartphones.
The warrant comes from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) which obtained the phone from the bedroom of a suspect in a drug investigation. The warrant shows that las enforcement can gain access to a lot of information from a smartphone, including a lot of data that users can’t easily access.
The document lists the data ICE obtained from the iPhone, including a lot of obvious information. The organization obtained 422 text messages, 151 pages of web history, over 6000 photos and 8 passwords. This is all data that users knowingly put on their phone.
The search warrant also shows data that users might not know their smartphones store. That includes 659 different geolocation points. Those points include 227 cell towers and 403 Wi-Fi networks the phone recently connected to in some fashion. That data can give law enforcement a very god idea of where the user travels on a regular basis.
Other data includes contacts stored in the phone, call activity and stored voicemails.
The ACLU warns that in some many states law enforcement does not require a warrant to seize a smartphone. ICE did obtain a warrant before obtaining information in this particular iPhone, but some law enforcement might choose to seize a phone and the information on it without such a warrant.
Some companies such as Cellebrite make mobile devices that can extract copies of data from an iPhone including saved, hidden and deleted content. The ACLU warns that law enforcement can use such devices to obtain information from a smartphone on site, without having to take it back to a station.
Users worried about law enforcement seizing information from their smartphone without a warrant should use strong passwords that aren’t easily cracked. ACLU also suggests that users encrypt the data on their smartphones, if their phones support such a feature.