from the collect-it-all,-sort-it-out-later dept
More than 100 phones taken from arrested Inauguration Day protesters have had their data exfiltrated, apparently in hopes of pinpointing perpetrators of damage and additional (but unarrested) suspects. As Buzzfeed reports, the unusual investigative step doesn't appear to have been hampered by device encryption.
Prosecutors are extracting data from more than 100 locked cell phones seized during arrests in downtown Washington, DC, on President Trump’s Inauguration Day, according to court papers prosecutors filed on Wednesday.
Prosecutors said they had search warrants to pull data from the phones, which were taken from individuals arrested on Inauguration Day, including some who were not indicted. All of the phones were locked, according to the government, “which requires more time-sensitive efforts to try to obtain the data.” But the filing appeared to indicate that they were successful in accessing information on the phones.
Presumably, prosecutors are looking for communications and photos that will nail down charges against protesters who directly caused $100,000 worth of damage. (Or maybe they're just looking for paystubs?) Another clue can be found in the Motion for Protective Order [PDF] filed by the US prosecutor before turning over the data to defendants' lawyers.
The police were able to arrest approximately 230 of the rioters that day; all of them were charged with violating DC. Code 22-1322 (Rioting or inciting to riot). However, many other rioters evaded arrest by forcibly charging police officers and fleeing.
It looks like the government prosecutor isn't satisfied with the 214 indictments it already has. Cell phones of "unindicted arrestees" have also been searched. Unusually, the data collected isn't being separated. Instead, defense attorneys will have all the access prosecutors have: a full dump of everything and the responsibility to sort out what is or isn't relevant to their case.
According to the filings on Wednesday, the government plans to produce the information it collects from the seized phones to the defendants by way of an electronic database that would be made available to defense counsel. The extracted data includes irrelevant personal information, prosecutors said, so they’re seeking an order from the court that would prohibit defense lawyers from copying or sharing information unless it’s relevant to defend their client.
The cell phone searches sound sketchy, especially when law enforcement has apparently acquired 100 cell phone-sized warrants or, worse, one warrant to search them all. The cell phones searches aren't the government's only bulk operation. Prosecutors are also hoping to prosecute in bulk, dividing the 200+ indictees into four categories for faster processing. One of the defense lawyers involved is fighting this move, pointing out the Constitution takes precedence over the government's convenience.
Christopher Mutimer, a defense lawyer representing one of the defendants, told BuzzFeed News by email on Wednesday that he would oppose efforts by the government to hold joint trials.
“These cases should be tried individually in a manner that protects each individual defendant’s constitutional rights,” Mutimer said. “Not in groupings that make the trials most convenient for the government. Grouping individuals for trial creates a danger of wrongful convictions based on guilt by association.”
Other constitutional inconveniences will have to wait as well. The presiding judge hasn't granted the data dump court order yet but has told arrestees any unconstitutional searches will have to be sorted out during their trials, not prior to prosecution. Expect statements of expertise from law enforcement officers where the word "drug dealer" has been replaced with "protester" to explain the likelihood of finding evidence of
drug dealing felony rioting on more than 100 seized and searched cell phones.