iPhones Provide a Wealth of Information to Law Enforcement

Law Enforcement is all excited about the popularlity of the iPhone. Why? It provides them with enhanced snooping abilities.

Law-enforcement experts said iPhone technology records a wealth of information that can be tapped more easily than BlackBerry and Android devices to help police learn where you've been, what you were doing there and whether you've got something to hide.

A former hacker, Jonathan Zdziarski, wrote a book on the iPhone's forensics, and cops now hire him to teach them how to retrieve hidden and deleted information. Some examples below: [More...]

Going way beyond cell cite locator information:

Every time an iPhone user closes out of the built-in mapping application, the phone snaps a screenshot and stores it. Savvy law-enforcement agents armed with search warrants could use those snapshots to see if a suspect is lying about whereabouts during a crime.

The photos you take:

iPhone photos are embedded with GEO tags and identifying information, meaning that photos posted online might not only include GPS coordinates of where the picture was taken, but also the serial number of the phone that took it.

The photos you post online:

Photos posted online might not only include GPS coordinates of where the picture was taken, but also the serial number of the phone that took it.

Your browser history, which Apple uses to assist advertisers in targeting you: Even when you delete it, the phone retains information in the database. Much of it is in screenshots you don't even know are taken:

Just as users can take and store a picture of their iPhone's screen, the phone itself automatically shoots and stores hundreds of such images as people close out one application to use another.

"Those screen snapshots can contain images of e-mails or proof of activities that might be inculpatory, or exculpatory," Minor said.

When you use location services, like to find a restaurant, the phone is capturing your GPS coordinates.

Here's a reason to turn off the auto-correct typing feature:

"The iPhone logs everything that you type in to learn autocorrect" so that it can correct a user's typing mistakes.

Apple doesn't store that cache very securely... so someone with know-how could recover months of typing in the order that it was typed, even if the e-mail or text it was part of has long since been deleted.

Is all this legal? Given the information that's obtainable, ex-hacker Zdziarski cautions that cops should get a search warrant properly advising the judge of the information that's available in the iPhone. "[H]e instructs them to add iPhone-specific language to the warrant."

Mr. Zdziarki's website contains more information on what he teaches cops to retrieve. He has a handy list here.

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  • Display: Sort:
    If Winston Smith didn't have anything to hide, (5.00 / 1) (#5)
    by 1980Ford on Sun Jul 11, 2010 at 03:34:21 PM EST
    he didn't have anything to worry about. The Tea Party is all for this kind of nationalistic type of snooping. It's only that other constitution that they rave about.

    I just don't have a reason (5.00 / 1) (#7)
    by Militarytracy on Sun Jul 11, 2010 at 04:57:55 PM EST
    to own one.  It would serve no existing need in my life.

    Do the prosecutors (none / 0) (#1)
    by ruffian on Sun Jul 11, 2010 at 01:34:44 PM EST
    get to assume that the owner of the phone had it in his possession at all times, and that the phone has no software errors?  I guess those are arguments the defense would have to make. It would be interesting to see Apple in court testifying about the validity of their  software.

    I don't know why the iPhone has to save those screen shots. Can't think what legitimate technical purpose that serves.

    On the bright side - instant alibi! Better than 'I was home alone watching Leno'.

    Just thought of a reason for the screen shots (none / 0) (#2)
    by ruffian on Sun Jul 11, 2010 at 01:38:38 PM EST
    When you go back to that app, they probably instantly display the screenshot of its last use while the app wakes up behind the scenes. Makes it look a little faster that it might actually be.

    Well (none / 0) (#3)
    by squeaky on Sun Jul 11, 2010 at 01:55:21 PM EST
    I just met a good friend of a friend who is a cinematographer. He is not an American but lives here now. When he entered the US recently they took him into a room a vigorously interrogated him.

    He was shocked, as he has never had any trouble with the law and has traveled the world many times over. They kept on asking him what he was doing in Algeria, and he kept on repeating that he had never been in Algeria, which he had not. Then they said that they know he was talking on his cell phone in Algeria. Finally he remembered that he was in a helicopter scouting out possibilities for a shoot near Algeria, and he used his cell phone while in the helicopter, to speak to his wife who was home in Europe.

    The US government listens to all cell phone conversations, evidentially.

    Jeralyn, you sound worried! (none / 0) (#4)
    by Gerald USN Ret on Sun Jul 11, 2010 at 02:00:49 PM EST
    Jeralyn, you sound worried!

    Here, you just got a new iPhone, and you are listing all the bad things about it.

    I think that most crooks worth their salt(we like to say that) use cheap disposables.

    In fact, I myself use prepaid phones that usually cost about $30 for the phone hardware including 300 minutes.  Could that mean I am up to something?

    Ok. ok.  I do have an answering service that knows where I am 24x7, no matter what world time zone, and no matter if I am down within the engine or pump room of some massive metal ship that wouldn't let a signal of any kind through the hull.  Now that answering service could be a trove of information for someone.

    That reminds me.  I went to get on a plane not too long ago and a half a dozen or more cell phones in my pull-along carry on was a point of discussion with some inspector type people.  I told them that I like to stay in touch, but that I would leave the phones behind if they had a problem with me boarding with them.  It seemed that when I told them I would leave them behind that they got even more agitated as if that was a totally unexpected response.  Finally just to expedite things with what appeared to be well meaning idiots, I pulled out a thin stuff-it type bag that I keep in the carry on for these kind of events as well as for dirty laundry and just checked the bag with the phones.  

    Our daughter has switched to a prepaid phone (none / 0) (#10)
    by Militarytracy on Sun Jul 11, 2010 at 06:22:57 PM EST
    and it is infuriating how many amenities she gets and how little she pays.  She has everything we have to include internet (though it is slow she says).  As soon as our contract is up I think we are going that way.  Our smart phones cost us a fortune each month, but we don't have anything more wonderful than she does.  In fact, when I get the bill each month, our phones and the whole deal that goes with them sux...IMO.

    Then go prepaid (none / 0) (#14)
    by jimakaPPJ on Tue Jul 13, 2010 at 06:52:36 AM EST
    IMO 80% of the people who have "smart" phones do so only because they suffer from the "who dies with the most toys win" syndrome.

    I consider my smart phone a time waster (none / 0) (#15)
    by Militarytracy on Tue Jul 13, 2010 at 11:38:15 AM EST
    now.  It was cool at first though.  And we did put off getting them, we didn't stand in line or anything needing the latest thing.  They aren't that terrific though now that I've been there.  It would be different if I needed it for work and there are probably people who do.  I only need a phone though and texting abilities and that covers my life. Even my husband doesn't need anything greater than that, as you already know anything of any importance in his job isn't going out on any airwaves.  But they do text back and forth making sure they have meeting times correct or different cancelations.

    Why do you need texting? (none / 0) (#16)
    by jimakaPPJ on Tue Jul 13, 2010 at 12:01:31 PM EST
    It is an instrument designed for people to talk over... It even has voice mail for messages.

    When my husband is teaching a class (none / 0) (#17)
    by Militarytracy on Tue Jul 13, 2010 at 02:54:18 PM EST
    or in a meeting, texting is priceless.  Also when his PT is canceled due to too much rain (because it rains here a lot so rain doesn't automatically cancel it), the Commanders text everyone instead of waking up every household at 4 a.m.  The Commanders now all send out mass texts in the evening too to remind everyone of different things. Your wife can literally not know what a workaholic you are now. And if you have teenagers or young adults, when they are really mad at you for being honest with them they will not answer a phone call when it is you on caller ID.  But they will respond to a text, and it does take the emotion right out of fighting usually and gets down to the issues instead.

    heh (none / 0) (#18)
    by jimakaPPJ on Wed Jul 14, 2010 at 07:39:39 AM EST
    the Commanders text everyone instead of waking up every household at 4 a.m.

    It is a kinder and gentler military than the one I was in.


    Remind me (none / 0) (#6)
    by Zorba on Sun Jul 11, 2010 at 03:49:32 PM EST
    Not to get an iPhone.  Not that I'm happy about any of the snooping.  I never use my cell phone unless I want to call out, I never use text messaging, and very few people even have my cell phone number.  (It won't do them any good, anyway, since it's seldom on.)  But still, this makes me even more paranoid (as if I needed any more reasons for paranoia......).

    This just pushed me closer to an EVO (none / 0) (#8)
    by mexboy on Sun Jul 11, 2010 at 05:53:45 PM EST
    Do they have the same issue, anyone know?

    i would think (none / 0) (#9)
    by pitachips on Sun Jul 11, 2010 at 06:07:05 PM EST
    just about any smartphone will present these kinds of issues. all of them come with gps capabilities and many of the programs/apps usually have access to your location (for instance to suggest restaurants nearby). there is too much money to be made selling you ads for the companies (whether apple/ATT or htc/sprint) to not be in the business of snooping in your phone usage.

    prepaid is the way to go (none / 0) (#11)
    by kmblue on Mon Jul 12, 2010 at 04:36:40 AM EST
    costs me 15. a month, and if I run out of minutes, I can buy more.  I seldom have to do that.  I have Vonage at home (about 50. a month) and get by quite well.  No contracts, no hassles.  The cell has all the amenities, but I seldom use them.

    Another Question (none / 0) (#12)
    by BDB on Mon Jul 12, 2010 at 05:47:24 AM EST
    What does Apple do with the information or can it do with the information if it wants to?  

    I don't trust large companies any more than I trust the government.  In fact, in some ways, I trust them even less.

    Don't take it out of country. (none / 0) (#13)
    by Ben Masel on Mon Jul 12, 2010 at 10:31:43 AM EST
    while there may be 4th amendment protections while it's in the US, there's none if you bring it back into the country.