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Judge grants FBI warrant to get Google to unlock pimp's cellphone

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A judge has approved a subpoena that asks Google to provide a wide range of Android cellphone data, including subscription information, web and GPS history, and instructions for overriding the phone's pattern lock, to FBI agents.

screen lock
screen lock

A judge has approved an FBI request that Google give up a wide range of information on a pimp's Android cellphone — including how to get past its pattern lock. Dante Dears, who helped found the "Pimpin' Hoes Daily" (PhD) gang in San Diego, was sent to prison in 2005 for pimping, largely of teenage prostitutes, as well as beating a 15-year-old girl and stuffing her in the trunk of a car when she refused to work. After Dears' release, a trusted source reported to the FBI that he was still directing prostitutes over a mobile phone he had previously denied possessing.

Since Dears had agreed to let law enforcement search his home as a condition of his parole, the FBI found and collected the phone, then obtained a warrant to search it. The agents, however, were apparently unable to get past the Android pattern lock, entering it wrongly enough times to lock down the phone for anyone without the account credentials linked to it. Stymied, they filed a warrant to get Google to help them unlock it. The warrant requested that Google give them any information it had collected on the phone, including subscription and billing information, contact lists, emails, web and GPS history, and "verbal and / or written instructions for overriding the 'pattern lock.'"

The warrant was approved by a judge, although we're not sure to what extent Google has complied at this point. Interestingly, it seems to have appeared on the internet by mistake, as it looks as if it was meant to be sealed. From what we can see, it's doubtful that the warrant was written up with the main intent of unlocking the phone. Most of the information would have been available from Google without unlocking it, so it's reasonably likely the lock screen request was thrown in as part of a bulk request. In some ways, this is similar to a request for telephone call history or ISP data, but the sheer amount of data available on a smartphone means that a company like Google is in a position to provide information far beyond the scope of your garden-variety ISP or carrier.