MI State Police: We have nothing to hide, that is why we have been stonewalling ACLU for 3 years

To paraphrase an argument often use by cops, why not comply with the ACLU’s FOIA request if you have nothing to hide?

As Gaius wrote earlier, there are reports that the Michigan State Police are downloading the entire cell phone contents, included deleted records (such as text messages and emails), of people stopped for simply traffic violations. The ACLU, three years ago, filed a FOIA request to determine exactly what the Michigan State Police were up to. The State Police stonewalled, for three years. Now because the news has gone national, suddenly they’re talking, and sent Gaius a statement, published below. But they still haven’t complied with the ACLU’s FOIA request, which would prove whether the Police are violating people’s privacy or not.

First the ACLU’s charge:

In August 2008, the ACLU of Michigan filed its first FOIA request to acquire records, reports and logs of actual use.

Documents provided in response confirmed the existence of these devices, but MSP claimed that the cost of retrieving and assembling the documents that disclose how five of the devices are being used is $544,680. The ACLU was then asked to pay a $272,340 deposit before the organization could receive a single document.

In order to reduce the cost, the ACLU of Michigan narrowed the scope of its request. However, each time the ACLU submitted more narrow requests, MSP claimed that no documents exist for that time period and then it refused to reveal when the devices were used so a proper request could be made.

“We should not have to go on expensive fishing expeditions in order to discover whether police are violating the rights of residents they have resolved to protect and serve,” said Fancher.

According to CelleBrite, the manufacturer of at least some of the devices acquired by MSP, the product can extract a wide variety of data from cellphones including contacts, text messages, deleted text messages, call history, pictures, audio and video recordings, phone details including the phone number and complete memory file dumps on some handsets.

Next, the State Police’s response, with my commentary interspersed:

Recent news coverage prompted by a press release issued by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has brought speculation and caused inaccurate information to be reported about data extraction devices (DEDs) owned by the Michigan State Police (MSP).

To be clear, there have not been any allegations of wrongdoing by the MSP in the use of DEDs.

That’s because the police won’t disclose the data showing whether or not they’re up to any wrongdoing.

The MSP only uses the DEDs if a search warrant is obtained or if the person possessing the mobile device gives consent.

I was on the receiving end of an officer’s quest for “consent” when I was in high school and a cop wanted to search my car, for no reason, when I was about to drive home with some friends from a ski resort. He kept saying things like, “so you’ll have no problem if I take a look inside your car, right?” Fortunately, I’d just had a civics class and knew my rights, and told the cop he did not have my permission to search the car. He prodded repeatedly, and was pretty ticked. It’s difficult to say “no” under those circumstances, and the police know it.

The department*s internal directive is that the DEDs only be used by MSP specialty teams on criminal cases, such as crimes against children.

Oh, so that’s the definition of a criminal case now, “crimes against children.” Nice way to tug the heartstrings and convince people to agree to this invasion of privacy – it’s for the children, you know.

The DEDs are not being used to extract citizens’ personal information during routine traffic stops.

If that means the DEDs are not being used, at all, during routine traffic stops, that’s good. Now release the necessary data to the ACLU and prove it.

The MSP does not possess DEDs that can extract data without the officer actually possessing the owner’s mobile device. The DEDs utilized by the MSP cannot obtain information from mobile devices without the mobile device owner knowing.

That’s nice. So when ARE they being used?

Data extraction devices are commercially available and are routinely utilized by mobile communication device vendors nationwide to transmit data from one device to another when customers upgrade their mobile devices.

Guns are commercially available too, it doesn’t mean they aren’t dangerous and we don’t control their use.

These DEDs have been adapted for law enforcement use due to the ever-increasing use of mobile communication devices by criminals to further their criminal activity and have become a powerful investigative tool used to obtain critical information from criminals.

I’m sure they’re quite helpful. As would a permanent wiretape on every home in America – Soviet style – that the cops could listen in to whenever they want. Utility is not a defense.

Since 2008, the MSP has worked with the ACLU to narrow the focus, and thus reducing the cost, of its initial Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.

Lie.

To date, the MSP has fulfilled at least one ACLU FOIA request on this issue and has several far-lower cost requests awaiting payment to begin processing. The MSP provides information in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act. As with any request, there may be a processing fee to search for, retrieve, review, examine, and separate exempt material, if any.

That’s a bunch of bull. Why would the ACLU claim that the police are asking for far too much money if it weren’t true? Turn over the data.

The implication by the ACLU that the MSP uses these devices “quietly to bypass Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches” is untrue, and this divisive tactic unjustly harms police and community relations.

I think relations were pretty much ruined when you guys started using these devices and then some brainiac in the department thought it would be smart to stonewall the ACLU – the freaking ACLU, people – for three years.

And if the Michigan State Police is worried about unjustly harming the police and community relations, they can just release the damn data and stop trying to charge a king’s ransom for it.


Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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