Blacks may bear brunt of new police data capture technology
David A. Love, The Grio | April 21, 2011

The latest high-tech gadgets bring promises of convenience and efficiency, with the hopes of enhancing our lives and making our jobs easier. But sometimes they create new challenges. For example, technological advances have helped law enforcement in their fight against crime. But one device is raising concerns from civil liberties groups who claim its use violates the constitutional rights of motorists who carry cell phones during routine traffic stops. And data suggests that this could pose an even greater threat to the privacy rights of blacks and Latinos, who are more likely to be stopped by police.

As recently reported on, the Michigan State Police uses the “Universal Forensic Extraction Device”, a handheld gadget which can copy the entire content of a cell phone — including text messages, pictures, video, contacts, GPS data, contacts and history — in a matter of minutes. The extraction device, manufactured by Israel-based Cellebrite, is a truly universal device that works with 3,000 cell phone models representing 95 percent of the market. Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Michigan wants to know why the state police purchased the devices, and for what purpose.

Law enforcement argues that extraction devices are necessary to preserve crucial evidence for trial before criminal suspects are able to destroy it. However, the ACLU of Michigan is concerned that the police are using the handheld tool to obtain private information — without suspicion, without the consent or knowledge of the motorist, and without a search warrant.

The organization believes the extraction device violates the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches if a warrant is not issued. The ACLU filed various Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests concerning the use of the device by the Michigan State Police, and recently wrote a letter to the state police requesting more information. The police agency wants to charge the civil rights group more than $544,000 for providing the documents they have requested.  (Read more)