Update: Mobiles and Your Identity

Last year I authored a post entitled “Mobiles and Your Identity“, where I attempted to unpack some of the privacy and surveillance concerns that are associated with smart phones, such as RIM’s Blackberry and Apple’s iPhone. In particular, I focused on the dangers that were associated with the theft of a mobile device – vast swathes of both your own personal data, as well as the personal information of your colleagues and friends, can be put at risk by failing to protect your device with passwords, kill switches, and so forth.

Mark Nestmann, over at “Preserving Your Privacy and More” has a couple posts discussing the risks that smart phones pose if a government authority arrests you (in the US). He notes that, in a recent case in Kansas, police examined a suspect’s mobile phone data to collect call records. When the case was brought to the Supreme Court, the Court found that since the smart phone’s records were held in a ‘container’ (i.e. the phone itself) that the police were within their rights to search the phone records. Mark notes that this ruling does not apply to all US states – several have more sensitive privacy laws – but leaves us with the warning that because laws of analogue search are being applied to digital devices that it is best to limit the data stored on smart phones (and mobile digital devices in general).

In Canada, we’ve recently seen Canadian law enforcement trawl through mobile data to try and find suspects – the ‘risks’ of criminality led Peel police to get massive cell phone tower dump records. Mobile devices are, even in Canada, being used to isolate the locations of people, and the ‘evidence’ that can be gathered from a mobile phone is substantial. In addition to your geolocation, if you’re using a cutting edge smart phone it is possible to gather information about web browsing habits, full address books, calls made and received (and their lengths), any documents that you’re storing on the device, etc. Smart phones are, effectively, miniature computers that hold treasure troves of information – even if you’re a law-abiding citizen, you should do what you can to secure your privacy to avoid potentially being subject to far-reaching searches.