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iPhone search warrant shows just how much information is on a cellphone

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mobile data iphone
mobile data iphone

Cellphone data searches are a contentious topic: there's no clear overall consensus on how much information police can get from a phone before needing a warrant, or how deep a search should be able to go. When we carry a portal to most of our lives in our pockets, should police be able to look into it the same way they would a notebook or wallet? Tangential to this issue is how much information actually is collected in an average search. While we don't know the answer to that, the ACLU has published one warrant that can give us some idea.

Filed in September 2012 as part of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) drug investigation, the warrant allows Michigan police to seize "historical information regarding call activity, 'phone book' directory information. stored voice-mails and text messages. and electronic files, photographs, and video images" from an iPhone. A list published at the bottom shows just what was recovered. The results? Among other things, authorities found the name of the computer it backed up to, a log of 104 phone calls, 659 points of location pulled from Wi-Fi and cellular access points, 422 text messages, over 6,000 images, and 151 pages of web history.


None of this is exactly surprising. Warrants are often as broad as possible, with the reasoning that it's better to have too much information than too little. It also doesn't indicate how common this practice is, whether most warrants cover this much information, or how much of the data was ultimately kept. What it does show us is just how much information can be obtained by police from something as simple as a phone search.