State Police officials told a legislative committee that devices designed to pull data from cell phones are only used to investigate the most-serious crimes and are not part of routine traffic stops.
State Police officials say the data extraction devices are rarely used – and never without a search warrant or the consent of a phone’s owner.
State Police Inspector Greg Zarotney says the devices are used when certain crimes are committed:
"Typically, and I would say overwhelmingly, they are used in high-level crimes to investigate child exploitation, homicide cases, high-level drug cases, those types of situations where we’ve obtained the cell phone either through a search warrant or their consent, and we’re doing some type of data extraction to build our case,” sais Zarotney.
But State Police officials do not know how often the devices have been used.
Representative Tom McMillan chairs the House Oversight Committee, and he says the possibilities created by new technology also pose new challenges to privacy.
"As technology evolves, we may need to think about how to assure the public of a negative – what we’re not doing," said McMillan, "I don’t know what that’s going to look like, how possible it is, but I do think that we ought to broach that and start looking at that."
McMillan might hold future hearings on electronic privacy and protecting people against overly intrusive searches of phones and personal organizers.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan is worried state police may be extracting personal data from cell phones illegally; a concern state police say is unfounded.
The Michigan State Police came under criticism for attempting to charge the American Civil Liberties Union hundreds of thousands of dollars for access to records on how the devices are used.
Zarotney says that’s because authorities don’t keep specific records on the devices, and gathering the information would have required inspecting thousands of police reports.