March 16, 2012
Judge Orders Google To Help FBI Unlock Alleged Pimp’s Smartphone
A federal judge has given the go-ahead for an FBI warrant that will require Google to assist the federal agency in cracking into the Android cell phone of a suspected pimp currently under investigation for his role in a federal human tracking investigation.
FBI agents confiscated one of suspect Dante Dears´ smartphones in mid-January believing it to contain important contacts and leads for the investigation. After several weeks of futile tinkering, however, specialists with the FBI Regional Computer Forensics Lab (RCFL) were not been able to crack the device´s sophisticated pattern lock despite numerous attempts.In fact, the FBI´s repeated failed attempts to circumvent the phone´s “pattern lock” actually triggered a second-level memory lock that can only be disarmed with the user´s Gmail address and password.
Frustrated and losing precious time, federal investigators turned to a Southern California district court for help this week, requesting that the judge issue a warrant that would force Google technicians to hand over the proverbial keys to the ironclad gadget, including “any and all means of gaining access” to “the complete contents of the (phone´s) memory,” said FBI agent Jonathan Cupina.
That information specifically includes:
• The user´s name, address, Social Security number, account login and password
• “All e-mail and personal contact list information on file for cellular telephone”
• A complete Internet search history including the time and duration of every website visited by the subscriber and any stored GPS data
• A record of every text, photo and video message ever sent or received by the phone
• Any e-mail addresses or instant messenger accounts used on the phone
Yet while the FBI has diligently followed legal protocol in first requesting the warrant for seizing and then unlocking the phone, a handful of legal and cybersecurity experts are questioning the legality of using information from the phone that was sent or received after it was seized.
According to Christopher Soghoian, a graduate fellow at the Center for Applied Cybersecurity Research and Ph.D. candidate in the School of Informatics and Computing at Indiana University, the FBI could eventually encounter a problematic legal technicality if they try to use this information in trial.
As Soghoian points out on his blog Slight Paranoia, if the FBI is able to obtain incriminating evidence sent or received on the phone after it was confiscated, it may not be permissible in court because this would mean that the phone had been used as a surveillance device — and for that, the agency does not have a warrant.
This, however, seems to be a fairly remote possibility.
Although the FBI requested in its warrant application that its efforts to obtain evidence on Dears and the prostitution ring from the smartphone be kept on hush-hush, the news obviously leaked somehow.
It now seems highly unlikely that Dears was unaware that the FBI would be searching his phone for leads, and there´s a good chance that the alleged pimp has already taken measures to erase any potentially incriminating information stored in the cloud.
Dante Dears was arrested in 2005 for pimping teenage prostitutes and beating a 15-year-old girl. After his release last year, investigators say Dears resumed management of the L.A.-based organization “Pimp Hoes Daily”(PhD), of which he is purportedly a founding member.
The FBI´s court filings refer to PhD as “a criminal street gang.”
Mr. Dears maintains that the smartphone in question does not belong to him and repeatedly refused the FBI´s requests to help them unlock it.