writes with news of a recent court decision
in which a judge ruled it was acceptable for police to impersonate the owner of a cell phone they had seized
, in order to extract information from the owner's friends. The ruling stems from an incident in 2009 when police officers seized the iPhone of a suspected drug dealer, then used text messages to set up a meeting with another person seeking drugs.
"'There is no long history and tradition of strict legislative protection of a text message sent to, displayed, and received from its intended destination, another person's iPhone,' Penoyar wrote in his decision. He pointed to a 1990 case in which the police seized a suspected drug dealer's pager as an example. The officers observed which phone numbers appeared on the pager, called those numbers back, and arranged fake drug purchases with the people on the other end of the line. A federal appeals court held that the pager owner's Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure were not violated because the pager is 'nothing more than a contemporary receptacle for telephone numbers,' akin to an address book. The court also held that someone who sends his phone number to a pager has no reasonable expectation of privacy because he can't be sure that the pager will be in the hands of its owner. Judge Penoyar said that the same reasoning applies to text messages sent to an iPhone. While text messages may be legally protected in transit, he argued that they lose privacy protections once they have been delivered to a target device in the hands of the police."