The FBI, which didn’t have the right to search the phone without a warrant, obtained one on February 13, 2012. They took the phone from the parole agent and sent it off to an FBI Regional Computer Forensics Lab in Southern California. There, technicians “attempted to gain access to the contents of the memory of the cellular telephone in question, but were unable to do so,” said the FBI. They were defeated by, of all things, Android’s “pattern lock”—not always notable for its high security.
Technicians apparently mis-entered the pattern enough times to lock the phone, which could only be unlocked using the phone owner’s Google account credentials. But Dears wasn’t cooperating, and the FBI didn’t have his credentials. So it was back to a judge with a new warrant application, filed on March 9, 2012. That application, which was apparently supposed to be sealed, was instead made public and was located today by security researcher Chris Soghoian.
the FBI asks for a warrant to be served on Google. It wants to know:
- The subscriber’s name, address, Social Security number, account login and password
- “All e-mail and personal contact list information on file for cellular telephone”
- The times and duration of every webpage visited
- All text messages sent and received from the phone, including photo and video messages
- Any e-mail addresses or instant messenger accounts used on the phone
- “Verbal and/or written instructions for overriding the ‘pattern lock’ installed on the” phone
- All search terms, Internet history, and GPS data that Google has stored for the phone
Soghoian wonders about the legality of accessing a still-operational cell phone. “Given that an unlocked smartphone will continue to receive text messages and new emails (transmitted after the device was first seized), one could reasonably argue that the government should have to obtain a wiretap order in order to unlock the phone,” he argues.
Google has provided a general statement: “Like all law-abiding companies, we comply with valid legal process. Whenever we receive a request we make sure it meets both the letter and spirit of the law before complying. If we believe a request is overly broad, we will seek to narrow it.”
AS PREVIOUSLY NOTED, THE INFORMATION STORED BY GOOGLE IS EXTENSIVE AND CAN BE EASILY SUBPOENAED IN CIVIL LITIGATION OR CRIMINAL PROSECUTION