Despite Everyone Knowing Cellebrite Devices Can Be Used To Break Into Locked Phones, Cellebrite Tells Cops Not To Tell Anyone Its Tech Can Used To Break Into Locked Phones
from the foregone-conclusion-yo dept
Cops and cop tech providers like to pretend the things they use and the things they do are so black ops the public should not be allowed to discuss them with anyone, much less the defendants, judges, and juries being asked to weigh evidence and render verdicts in criminal trials.
A lot of supposedly secret tech has been an open secret for years, ranging from law enforcement’s belated admissions of Stingray use to the ongoing existence of multiple tech tools capable of compromising phones completely and/or bypassing passcodes to give cops access to data arrested suspects are unwilling to part with voluntarily.
Adding to the annals of ridiculous law enforcement secrecy is this report from Lorenzo Franceschi-Biccierai for TechCrunch:
As part of the deal with government agencies, Cellebrite asks users to keep its tech — and the fact that they used it — secret, TechCrunch has learned. This request concerns legal experts who argue that powerful technology like the one Cellebrite builds and sells, and how it gets used by law enforcement agencies, ought to be public and scrutinized.
In a leaked training video for law enforcement customers that was obtained by TechCrunch, a senior Cellebrite employee tells customers that “ultimately, you’ve extracted the data, it’s the data that solves the crime, how you got in, let’s try to keep that as hush hush as possible.”
“We don’t really want any techniques to leak in court through disclosure practices, or you know, ultimately in testimony, when you are sitting in the stand, producing all this evidence and discussing how you got into the phone,” the employee, who we are not naming, says in the video.
To start with, anything used to collect evidence used in open court should be, by default, open. This is nothing more than a company pitching tech tools to cops with the (well, I would say “unspoken” but it appears to have been said out loud) agreement cops won’t talk too much about the tech even when sworn to honesty.
It’s not exactly a non-disclosure agreement — something that should automatically be considered null and void if it interferes with the presumption of public access that underlies criminal proceedings. But it’s also not anything that would deter investigators from engaging in parallel construction to obscure the source of the presented evidence.
No, if it’s anything, it’s a conspiracy. Cellebrite — despite being well-known as a supplier of phone hacking tools — wants to pretend the public doesn’t know what its tech is capable of. Cellebrite’s addition to the public domain started all the way back in 2016 when the DOJ was trying to secure precedent for compelled decryption in the San Bernardino shooting case. That it still thinks cops are essential to its ongoing secrecy suggests its execs and sales teams can’t be bothered to read the news.
If law enforcement complies with this unenforceable request from Cellebrite, it is now part of a conspiracy that could actually be considered criminal. Lying to courts is a crime. Lying to defendants about the source of evidence is a constitutional violation. Now, I know it’s hard for cops to wrap their minds around this concept since most lawsuits involving violated rights are civil (in the legal sense of the word), but violating constitutional rights is also a criminal act. That it’s most often resolved through civil lawsuits doesn’t change that underlying fact.
While I understand cops don’t want to tip their (tech) hands too early when exploiting new devices/methods, at some point there’s enough on the public record that makes these assertions about protecting means and methods ridiculous, if not actually disingenuous. While the TechCrunch article doesn’t pinpoint a date on the sales pitch, if it occurred any time in the last half-decade, it’s a tech company asking cops to contribute to futile opacity effort.
And even without a time stamp, Cellebrite continues to insist what it says in sale pitches does nothing to harm anyone and is, in fact, it being perhaps the most honorable purveyor of phone hacking tools that ever existed.
Cellebrite spokesperson Victor Cooper said in an email to TechCrunch that the company “is committed to support ethical law enforcement. Our tools are designed for lawful use, with the utmost respect for the chain of custody and judicial process.”
“We do not advise our customers to act in contravention with any law, legal requirements or other forensics standards,” the spokesperson said.
Even if we choose to believe most cops could say the phrase “ethical law enforcement” without laughing out loud, the quoted video says exactly the opposite: Cellebrite does, in undeniable fact, “advise customers to act in contravention with any law, legal requirement or other forensics standards.” Lying about the source of submitted evidence contravenes laws and legal requirements. Hiding it behind parallel construction contravenes laws and legal requirements.
And it appears Cellebrite is going to continue to engage in this bullshit for the foreseeable future:
When asked whether Cellebrite would change the content of its training, the spokesperson did not respond.
It won’t change this. It won’t because this messaging appeals to cops and their “fuck you” attitude towards criminal defendants and the general public. And because that messaging appeals to cops, there’s no reason to change it, since that’s Cellebrite’s core market. Both parties know where the power really lies in criminal court. And it sure isn’t with the people being cut out of the loop by this public-private collusion that pretends information already in the public domain can’t be shared with those facing the loss of rights and freedoms.