From The Grio — 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 MSNBC.com, 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.
The ACLU of Michigan is also concerned that the police are disproportionately targeting people of color with their twenty-first century, high-tech handhelds. Studies suggest that blacks and Latinos could bear the brunt of police abuse of these extraction devices. For one, African-Americans, who are less likely to own a landline, talk and text more on cell phones than any other group.
According to a study conducted last year by Nielsen, blacks talk an average of 1331 minutes a month, over twice as much as whites (647 minutes). Latinos talk 826 minutes, and Asians 692 minutes a month. Meanwhile, blacks lead the field in texting, with 780 text messages per month. Latinos are not far behind with 767 texts, followed by 566 for whites and 384 for Asians.
Then there is the issue of racial profiling. Data provided by the state of Michigan show that the state police have a history of disproportionately conducting searches, issuing citations and giving verbal warnings to black and Latino men. Further, advocacy groups claim that racial profiling is on the rise in Southeast Michigan, arguing that since 9/11, law enforcement has increasingly targeted immigrant groups such as Arabs, Muslims and South Asians.
Similarly, racial profiling is a nationwide issue. According to Amnesty International, 32 million people in the U.S. — the equivalent of the population of Canada–have been victims of racial profiling, and 87 million are at risk of being subjected to the practice in their lifetime. Typically, while white officers target black and Latino drivers for potential drug courier activity, drugs are more often found when police officers search whites. In Los Angeles in recent years, African-Americans and Latinos faced more police stops, frisks, searches and arrests than whites, although people of color were less likely to have a weapon.