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Texting and the Cellebrite UFED

A new tool provides law enforcement with the investigative device they need to enforce Georgia’s new anti-texting while driving laws. I would like to take the time to introduce you to the Cellebrite UFED. For those with inquisitive minds, the first question is, what does UFED stand for? It stands for Universal Forensic Extraction Device. The name says it all. There is now a device in existence that can read the information on your handheld mobile device. And I’m not talking about the most common telephones on the most common service providers. This device is “universal"…according to the brochure, it is capable of reading all mobile devices. This is achievable because Cellebrite works directly with all 140 cell phone operators and manufacturers worldwide in order to secure pre-production handsets to ensure their software will be compatible with all new models distributed to the consumer.

The brochure goes on to describe that the UFED can read devices that have a missing or destroyed SIM card (if you don’t know what that is, ask your teenage children) by creating a clone SIM card. It can even unlock password protected and encrypted areas of stored memory. Truly the stuff of science fiction and espionage movies. The simplicity of the device is the real danger, because the UFED allows the user to quickly and efficiently copy, print, and analyze the data on your phone.

Obviously this type of technology was useful after 9/11, when the FBI was conducting anti-terror raids and we all wanted to find out which terrorists were talking to which support groups. But with the advances in technology, this now handheld and very portable reader, has made its way into every day law enforcement. Last month, the Michigan chapter of the ACLU raised concerns about the use of UFEDs in roadside traffic stops. They threatened to file suit to stop its use in the field due to perceived violations of the 4th Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure. Michigan Police defend the practice, saying they only search the mobile device when they obtain a warrant OR WHEN GIVEN CONSENT. That’s a pretty big “or"…

The device has very few limitations and is capable of extracting contacts, call logs, photos, videos, memos, and text messages (including deleted ones). Essentially, everything. This is a good time to remind you that newer phones are equipped with “geo-tagging" features, meaning each photo and video also records a GPS location. This can help police confirm if you just came from a bar (with the wild photos of you playing Golden Tee) or from Grandma’s (with photos of the fabulous roast you had for dinner). When they see on a map that Grandma lives 15 minutes away, you are cleared of the DUI, but they cite you for 10 texts that you sent and 10 texts you received in the last 10 minutes – landing you with 20 points and a license suspension.

I personally have seen several drivers who are still texting while driving. I suspect that the State of Georgia will begin to look for ways to ensure that citizens are complying with the law. For now, I am not aware of Georgia using this device. However, this device would provide Georgia law enforcement with the tool they need to enforce our laws and I anticipate that this device will be widely used within the next few years.

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