Iowa Dept. Of Transportation Announces Plan To Give Police Officers, Security Personnel Full Access To Your Smartphone
from the privacy-is-so-20th-century dept
Iowans will soon be able to use a mobile app on their smartphones as their official driver’s license issued by the Iowa Department of Transportation.
People will still be able to stick a traditional plastic driver’s license in their wallet or purse if they choose, [DOT Director Paul] Trombino said. But the new digital license, which he described as “an identity vault app,” will be accepted by Iowa law enforcement officers during traffic stops and by security officers screening travelers at Iowa’s airports, he said.
Nowhere in the course of the Des Moines Register article are any concerns expressed about potential abuse by law enforcement. Perhaps that’s due to the sole source being Paul Trombino of the Dept. of Transportation — a government agency that, like many others, likely views law enforcement officers as “good guys” and defers to their judgment.
But what happens where you’re pulled over? The first thing an officer does is ask for license and registration and then takes both items back to his/her vehicle. How many people feel comfortable with allowing an officer to take and maintain control of their cellphone for an indefinite period of time?
Sure, we have a Supreme Court decision that states warrants must be obtained before cellphones can be searched, but how much of a deterrent is that? Let’s say the officer thinks you might be some sort of drug runner. Well, now he has both your cellphone and “exigent circumstances.” Even if the eventual search turns up nothing, he’s still had a chance to look through your cellphone and, quite possibly, your vehicle, all without a warrant. Iowa’s law enforcement officers already take advantage of the state’s asset forfeiture laws. There’s no reason to believe they won’t take advantage of additional opportunities to root around in the contents of someone’s cellphone. All it takes is a routine traffic stop.
That’s only one problematic area. What about officers who like to send explicit or suggestive photos to their to their cop buddies? Are we really supposed to believe that this sort of behavior is limited to just a couple of officers in California? Human nature is universal and handing over the access and opportunity just makes it that much easier for those who would take advantage of both to do so.
Sure, the Iowa DOT app requires a pin to unlock, but your whole phone is an open book once you’ve unlocked it to access the drivers license app. Trombino says it’s “highly secure,” and maybe the app itself is, but it doesn’t keep cops and TSA officers out of the rest of the contents of your smartphone. This app may be a technological step forward, taking advantage of something people carry more often than they do purses or wallets, but it’s also an easy way for law enforcement and security personnel to achieve access to an unlocked phone without having to bother with Constitutional niceties.
If the app could be accessed without unlocking the entire phone, it would be a bit more useful. But there’s really no way to make an app that ignores the underlying system that enables it to function — at least not one put together by a state agency. And since you can’t separate the two, it just makes more sense to carry around a slab of plastic until someone comes up with a better idea.