NEW YORK – New Yorkers have a right to know how police are searching their cell phones, according to a lawsuit filed against the NYPD.
The suit was filed in State Supreme Court more than 10 months after the NYPD first received a freedom-of-information request (FOIA) for records on its use of mobile device forensic tools that can decrypt and download all the information on a target’s cell phone.
Albert Fox Cahn, executive director of the privacy group Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (S.T.O.P.), says other police departments around the country have complied with similar requests.
“New Yorkers have a clear legal right to understand how these tools are being used, when they’re being used and what safeguards are in place to protect innocent New Yorkers from this sort of invasive search,” Cahn states.
Last year a court ordered the NYPD to respond to an earlier FOIA request over its use of cell phone surveillance technology against protesters. It has not yet responded to this new lawsuit.
Cahn says devices now available to police departments can access all the information on a cell phone including documents, location information, messaging history, and even documents that had been deleted.
“That’s an incredibly invasive window into the most private areas of our lives,” he stresses. “And that sort of data collection requires powerful safeguards to make sure it’s only being used in cases where it’s actually necessary.”
Cahn adds that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that police are required to get a warrant to be allowed to search a cell phone.
But he notes that there are exceptions to those rules. And that is what prompted the civil rights group Upturn to request records of cell phone searches from police departments around the country.
“One thing we want to better understand is whether there are any exceptions that have been used by departments to avoid the search warrant requirement,” Cahn explains.