Cops May Be Data Mining Inauguration Protesters’ Phones
Medics, journalists, and legal observers have been charged with felony rioting.
Published on January 26, 2017

A lawyer for several of the protesters arrested in last Friday's inauguration protests has claimed that cops are collecting information from his clients' mobile phones. A small number of protesters at the Washington D.C. protests were destructive, damaging property and throwing objects at police. Around 230 people were arrested that day, but the majority of those arrested were protesting peacefully, not engaging in vandalism. In fact, many of those arrested were legal observers, medics, and journalists doing their jobs.

The majority of those who were arrested were jailed for a day, then charged with felony rioting and released. But the DC Metropolitan Police are keeping the mobile phones of anyone they arrested as evidence for the duration of the court proceedings. Jeffery Light, attorney for several of those arrested, believes that the police is mining the phones for data. One of Light's clients, a volunteer who was providing medical services to anyone injured during the protest, saw that his Gmail account had been accessed from his phone while it was in possession of the police.

“It is not as if they saw someone specifically filming something, and have a good idea there’s evidence on there,” Light said. “They are just across the board holding everyone’s phones, which is particularly concerning because there were reporters and lawyers in the crowd who have work product on their phones.” Police are not permitted to access locked phones without a search warrant, and Light said that he has not been informed of any such warrants being filed.

There is a possibility that the phone access logs were being generated by automatic updates and mail server checks by the phones themselves, and not police interference. But according to cybercrime defense attorney Fred Jennings, this still indicates improper handling of the phones. Phones taken as evidence are supposed to be stored in signal-blocking Faraday bags to prevent remote access. "If it had been secured properly and placed in the bag to safeguard it, there'd be no way for it to ping the server," Jennings said.

Chris Moore
Chris Moore is a New York-based writer who has written for Mass Appeal while also mixing records and producing electronic music.
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