Did you know that if you drive in the United States (something which many Americans take for granted) there’s a good chance your vehicle license plate and car have been photographed and put in a database? Automated License Plate Readers (ALPR) and cameras are in many major cities across the U.S. already and have been gathering data on millions of unsuspecting American drivers. What’s even more disturbing than the “eye in the sky” watching your every move is a report that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is currently looking for contractors to build and maintain a national database of license plate information collected. Read more about it here: https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2014/02/national-license-plate-recognition-database-what-it-and-why-its-bad-idea
The U.S. Supreme Court may be deciding on the legality of police officers obtaining cell phone data without a warrant, but for now it is surely happening. I will also go as far as to suggest that even if the Supreme Court rules that this practice of obtaining private data without a warrant is absolutely despicable (and illegal) it will still continue in some fashion.
With that said, my advice is simple. Don’t say, text, or email anything on your phone that you wouldn’t want to see on the news alongside a photo yourself. In other words, secrets are not secrets if they are on your phone. Never underestimate technology. Many police officers have at their disposal, a device that can download all of your phone data in seconds. Keep in mind that if local street cops are able to have this technology, you have no idea what kinds of crazy monitoring devices are being used at the headquarters of all the alphabet agencies.
What I want to focus on here is the lower level contacts in which you may be pulled over or involved in a traffic accident and the local police seize your phone. I want to make it clear that if you have committed a crime then you deserve to be punished for it but at the same time you could have unrelated sensitive information on your phone. No one can be sure about the trustworthiness of any other human being when valuable information is revealed to them and once your phone data is loaded onto a secondary device it could easily fall into the wrong hands.
Some officials would have you believe that the cell phone data would only be taken without a warrant in the most serious cases. In fact, the two cases being reviewed by the Supreme Court right now, Riley v California and US v Wurie, are about serious incidents (gangs shootings and drugs to keep it short). However, it must be kept in mind that once these cases make it past the Supreme Court there will be a feeding frenzy and the everyday average citizen will be the victim. Once police have the green light to seize and search cell phones they will do it to everybody. It won’t just be related to “big time” offenses. You will have your phone seized every time as a matter of routine. The routine traffic stop will become the routine traffic stop and phone search.
At this point I can only add this piece of advice: Get rid of your smart phone. If you don’t want to do that then take the battery out of it every time you get into your vehicle.
Another option is to use a portable faraday enclosure to protect your cell phone. This sounds complicated, but is actually pretty simple and easy to use. There are several companies that offer this sort of privacy protection for phones – one of which is in the link below.
Note: author has no affiliation with companies who sell these devices – we’re simply trying to share helpful information with those who want to protect their privacy.