Cops Unlock Dead People’s Phones Without Probable Cause

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alextheblue

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If there was a crime or suspected crime of some sort (hence police involvement), and someone involved died... I think they have enough probable cause to look through your stiff, I mean stuff.

Now if you're trying to tell me there was no crime and they're going around door to door unlocking phones of people who died of natural causes, that could be an issue. But that does not seem to be the case, yeah?
 

alextheblue

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Also why can't we comment on the offensive speech MS "opinion piece" you wrote? What does Tom's TOS say about offensive speech? Google? Apple? Facetwitsnapgram? You packed in rampant speculation about them locking people out of their entire MS account. You do know they can kick you off a single service without locking you out of your entire MS account, right? For example, tossing you off XBL but not locking you out of your OS and Office.

Don't get me wrong, I don't agree with the de facto censorship all the big firms are engaging in collectively when it comes to "public" posts. So yeah I am pretty annoyed with the whole arbitrary offensive speech business, I mean who decides what is offensive? Everything is offensive to someone. But I don't want to hear a website complaining about people being kicked/banned for offensive speech... when they kick/ban and otherwise censor people for offensive speech. Smacks a smidge bit of hypocrisy.
 

bit_user

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The police often (always?) get involved, when someone dies - whether or not there's indication of a crime.

And, when the article says "without probable cause", that's the point. So, what if police are collecting call & text history from phones of people who are even dead (or unconscious) from things like car accidents? It's not hard to imagine, if it's in an inner-city neighborhood, that they might want to build up a map of the social network, in order to make it easier to solve certain crimes.

But is that okay? I think it certainly goes against the spirit of the 4th Amendment. That, if they have no reason to suspect you, then they should have no ability to search you. Even after you die.
 

alextheblue

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They often get involved to assess the possibility of a crime, cause of death, etc. They're not necessarily suspecting you, they may suspect you have information. Also I read the linked-to Forbes article this one referenced. Nowhere did they actually reveal a case where someone died of natural causes or an accident and the police did this. They have used them in cases of people dying of drug overdoses, trying to turn up information that might lead them to the dealer.

Also, dead people don't have much in the way of legal rights. If you want to argue whether or not this is "OK" or whether they "should" have the ability to search that's a different matter. I have mixed feelings. But the article as written wants readers to believe they're currently doing this entirely without suspicion, and the source article doesn't really support that. Certainly not with any credible evidence. The closest it comes is this:

But there are some anxieties around the ability of the police to turn up at a crime scene and immediately start accessing deceased individuals' cellphones without any need for permission. Greg Nojeim, senior counsel and director of the Freedom, Security and Technology Project at the Center for Democracy & Technology, said it's possible in many cases there would be a valid concern about law enforcement using fingerprints on smartphones without any probable cause.
Armasu has embellished a bit as usual. Basically they're talking about their fear of yet-unproven "abuse" of the lack of legal protection for a deceased person's privacy. But even if this were the case, while I personally might not care for it... think about this. Let's go back pre-cellphones. If you were found dead of unknown cause, and had a locked box full of letters... did they need a warrant to take the key out of your hand and open it?
 

USAFRet

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"Fingerprint authentication remains the safest biometric authentication solution"

"safest" in a batch of exceedingly poor choices.

That's like being the fastest in a race between a bunch of 3 legged horses.
 

Olle P

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I'd say it's mostly a non issue.
As stated, when it's done as part of a criminal investigation there's definitely "probable cause".
If it's in response to an accident I see nothing wrong in looking at the contact list to find the ICE number.
(ICE = In Case of Emergency, who to call when the phone owner has had an accident.)
 

CerianK

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If laws were passed to prevent this behavior without a warrant (which might be a hassle to obtain routinely, since people happen to die fairly often), the likelihood of bodies being dug up to obtain a fingerprint increases when retrospect deems it necessary. Hmm... a possible new reason to consider cremation. Of course, the IMF would just create a fake print from personal objects or existing records to avoid the issue of obtaining an actual finger.
 

CerianK

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Sorry: Impossible Missions Force (not International Monetary Fund) reference (for humor).
 

Olle P

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So do you guys really think it's a bad idea to figure out who the dead person is and which relative to contact with the bad news?
To me there's no difference between unlocking the phone and opening the wallet.
 

CerianK

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The issue is with the scope of what is searched for on the phone based on specific circumstance. We all have secrets, some of which we might like to (and feel we have the right to) take to the grave and much of who and what we are is (unfortunately?) recorded on the phone. Police are just like the rest of us in the sense that whatever they/we do, is sometimes beyond the scope of what is customary or expected... we are natural snoops, and perhaps police are even more-so due to nature of their job. My opinion is that no one individual should be allowed to access another person's (even a dead person's) property without some oversight (e.g. partner, body-cam or warrant, as appropriate to circumstance) that serves to prevent abuses of scope.
 

Olle P

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And what the scope is isn't clarified by the article.
I do agree that respect to personal integrity is to be shown, and based on the circumstances of the death the scope of the search should differ.

My main point is that I think a search (by emergency responders) for contact information to next of kin is permissable, and shouldn't be forbidden.
 

bit_user

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Not to indulge in a "slippery slope" argument, but I'm curious whether you think there should be a backdoor, to facilitate access, in those cases or in case of murder victims.

BTW, they should be able to figure out who you are (and thereby finding next of kin) by simply looking at the IPMI number on your SIM card and searching for it in telcos' records. That shouldn't require electronically unlocking the phone, and I'm sure they could easily get a warrant or whatever permission they need, simply to ID a corpse.
 

Olle P

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Backdoor? Never ever!

Sure there are other ways to identify a person, but they require more work/time. The reason for having an ICE post specified in your contacts list is to make it easy for first responders. It's your decision!
If you don't want others to (easily) access your phone when you die just use PIN instead of fingerprint to unlock the phone. No reason to have an ICE post.
 
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