Cops and Crooks Exploiting Your Private Phone Data

By Lee Bellinger / November 12, 2013

Mobile Phone
It really is true. Mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets help us conduct our personal and professional lives much more efficiently. But you have to decide if all the bells and whistles that this technology has to offer is worth the intrusive look it offers others’ into your life.
These ubiquitous gadgets are just as convenient for anyone who wants to snoop on your texts, gawk at your pictures, steal your identity, or run up a huge bill on your account. Read this alert right now and discover how to protect yourself starting today.
Chances are you or someone you communicate with regularly owns one of these devices, or is thinking about getting one very soon, maybe even for the holidays. It’s critical to know the drawbacks in order to make responsible decisions and protect your privacy.

Keep Your Mobile Gadgets Far Away
From You, If You Want to Protect
Your Fourth Amendment Rights

In 2011, the California Supreme Court decided in People v. Diaz that police may lawfully search an arrested individual’s mobile phone without obtaining a search warrant. If you’re stopped for speeding, unpaid parking tickets, driving without a seatbelt, or any other reason, the police can go through your phone and pick through the information to incriminate you further, or draw other unrelated charges.
Your contacts, your emails, even your “private” texts and cell phone pics are all fair game for a law enforcement fishing expedition.
So if you ever find yourself in a motor vehicle incident or other situation where you are likely to encounter law enforcement, it’s wise to secure your smartphone in your glove box or other location out of arm’s reach.
According to Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Ryan Radia, the law states the phone must be “on your person” in order to search it without a warrant. This specifically means, “immediately associated with your person.” However, if it’s “in your immediate control but not immediately associated with your person,” it cannot be searched. This is all murky language that hasn’t been properly tested in the courts, says Radia.
Your best bet is to keep your phone off you and inside some other object. If it’s in your luggage, car console, or trunk, the police will have a tough time justifying a search without a warrant.
But, if it’s in your purse next to you, the seat next to you, or in your pocket, then most likely they’ll attempt to search without a warrant. (That’s why this court decision is especially attuned to mobile phones, and not so much with tablets or laptops, which regularly ride in a bag in the back seat or trunk of many people’s cars.)

Protect Your Smartphone
Data from Prying Eyes

No matter what version smartphone (or tablet) you own, passcode protect it now. This simply means enabling your device to require a code in order to open and operate it. Simply look for the Settings or Security folder on your phone. A passcode or screen lock can protect you from a random loss, and the police cannot force you to divulge your code. But beware, Radia says they can lie or trick you into giving it to them, and if you voluntarily offer it, it’s all fair game and you’ve given up your Fourth Amendment rights.
One more rub. The police have special hardware that can crack and beat a passcode. So if your tablet or smart phone enables you to encrypt the data stored on the device, do it. Same as above, the police cannot force you to divulge the passcode to your encryption program.

Criminals Want to Break into
Your Smart Phone, Tablet, or
Other Mobile Device, Too

According to the Javelin Strategy Report, identity fraud increased by 13%, and more than 11.6 million adults were victimized in 2011 alone in the United States. Mobile devices represent the latest frontier thieves use to defraud individuals:
“Smartphone owners experience greater incidence of fraud – The survey found seven percent of smartphone owners were victims of identity fraud. This is a 1/3rd higher incidence rate compared to the general public. Part of this increase may be attributable to consumer behavior: 32 percent of smartphone owners do not update to a new operating system when it becomes available; 62 percent do not use a password on their home screen – enabling anyone to access their information if the phone is lost; and 32 percent save login information on their device”
To keep ourselves better protected than 62% of the population, we can use a little reverse engineering:
  • Set a passcode to access your device. This helps defend against crooks, snoops, and overreaching law enforcement;
  • Update your software regularly to get the latest security enhancements;
  • Do NOT automatically save login information. If a thief or an overly aggressive police officer gets ahold of your device and is able to break your passcode, he’ll have a fun time getting into your e-mail, brokerage account, bank account, insurance account, medical records… you name it.
  • Also, keep an eye on your devices. Don’t forget them in a bar, restaurant, cab or even your home or office

A Few More Mobile Device
Safety Precautions

If security is an important feature for you, choose a platform that’s built with security in mind. Before touching on that, it’s important to mention that we each need to protect all the other people’s information we keep on our mobile devices. It’s a responsible habit, and we may soon be legally liable for data loss! Here’s what we mean.
Locked Mobile Phone
The Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary agreed to a $1.5 million settlement where one of its physicians lost a laptop storing patient data. There wasn’t any evidence patient data was accessed, however, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) held the hospital accountable for shabby security practices.
What’s interesting, the American Medical Association reports that if the data was encrypted, the hospital would not have had to report the incident in the first place, and therefore would not be out the money. Essentially, that’s a $1.5 million fine for not doing very basic laptop security!
Cases like this are likely to become more common as mobile device use continues to increase.
Traditionally, BlackBerry has been the most security-conscious mobile device on the market because its main customers are corporate users. And today, Apple’s new mobile operating system (iOS) is getting positive reviews for its enhanced built-in security features. The latest versions of these two devices currently set the standard for mobile device security.
Google’s Android is behind, especially when it comes to its apps:
“Android applications downloaded by as many as 185 million users can expose end users’ online banking and social networking credentials, e-mail and instant-messaging contents because the programs use inadequate encryption protections, computer scientists have found,” reports the Ars Technica website.
Google’s Android operating system is to mobile, what Microsoft Windows was to the PC – a big juicy target for hackers of all stripes to corrupt.
One quick solution, no matter which mobile platform you use, be discriminate about the apps you download. Pew Research found:
  • 54% of app users have decided to not install a cell phone app when they discovered how much personal information they would need to share in order to use it
  • 30% of app users have uninstalled an app that was already on their cell phone because they learned it was collecting personal information that they didn’t wish to share
Taken together, 57% of all app users have either uninstalled an app over concerns about having to share their personal information, or declined to install an app in the first place for similar reasons.” If in doubt, delete it or don’t download it.
Google knows it needs to strengthen its Android security to stay competitive and seems to be making an effort. It’s currently testing a modified version of their Android operating system to secure classified government and military information. Let’s hope, this will be available to consumers, without any crony corporate surveillance baggage.
Another important security feature to activate is the remote data swipe feature. If you happen to lose your mobile device, you can manually or automatically delete all the data off of it, leaving crooks empty handed.
Enjoy the convenience of your mobile device, and use the security tips above to better protect your data, your constitutional rights, your privacy, and your finances.