09 July 2024

Support Your Local Police

In September 2022, the court ruled that Baltimore police could not use the Cellebrite phone hacking software without a warrant, but the police did so in direct defiance of the order, because think that they are above the law.

Sorry gentlemen, you are not Donald Trump:

Showing yet again that you can lead a cop to a court order but you can’t make them follow it, Matthew Petti reports for Reason that the Baltimore PD apparently barely paused its scraping of seized cell phones following a court order telling it to get its warrant particularity house in order.
Less than a year after the ruling, Baltimore cops re-upped their Cellebrite subscription, Reason has learned. In response to a Maryland Public Information Act sent through the website MuckRock, the Baltimore Police Department disclosed a $112,940 contract for Cellebrite services from March 2023 to March 2024, and another $6,100 contract from September 2023 to September 2024.

The Baltimore Police Department did not respond to a request for comment.
The records obtained by Philip Glaser (referenced in Petti’s report) seem to indicate the PD was never serious about complying with the court order.

But it’s not as though the court order was vague. And it certainly wasn’t as vague as the warrants being crafted by PD investigators. The coverage of this decision starts far too optimistically before it gets to the specifics of the order itself.
Baltimore Police have stopped extracting information from cellphones, a powerful investigative tool, while the department evaluates how to ensure its search warrants meet the requirements of a consequential opinion rendered this week by Maryland’s highest court.

The Court of Appeals’ ruling mandates police in Maryland be more specific when applying for warrants to search people’s cellphones and recommends law enforcement agencies adopt protocols to pull data from the devices under more narrow parameters.

Authored by Judge Jonathan Biran, of the 5th Appellate Judicial Circuit, the opinion released Monday builds on a principle that has percolated through the federal courts: A recognition that smartphones store some of society’s most sensitive information — from a person’s bank records to their personal photographs — and that the government shouldn’t have unfettered access to those private contents.
Well, there’s no telling if the Baltimore PD actually did stop “extracting information from cellphones.” According to the contract dates, there may have been a slight pause. There’s also a similar chance there was no interruption at all.

Police cannot be trusted to follow the law.

Training will not change this.  Arresting cops for breaking the law might at least slow it down a bit.


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