Those multi-gesture passcode locks on Android phones that give users (and their spouses) fits apparently present quite a challenge for the FBI as well. Frustrated by a swipe passcode on the seized phone of an alleged gang leader, FBI officials have requested a search warrant that would force Google to “provide law enforcement with any and all means of gaining access, including login and password information, password reset, and/or manufacturer default code (“PUK”), in order to obtain the complete contents of the memory of cellular telephone”.
The request is part of a case involving an alleged gang leader and human trafficker named Dante Dears in California. Dears served several years in prison for his role in founding a gang in California called PhD, and upon his release he allegedly went back to his activities with the gang, according to the FBI’s affidavit. Agents conducted surveillance on Dears and found that he was using a mobile phone to allegedly communicate with prostitutes and other associates.
Dears had denied to his parole officer that he owned a mobile phone, and in January the parole officer went to Dears’s apartment and seized the phone. The FBI subsequently served a search warrant on the parole officer and took the phone, but the bureau’s forensics investigators couldn’t get past the swipe lock on the Android handset. Once they failed enough times, the phone locked and now requires the user’s Google username and password for access. As a result, the FBI is asking that Google be forced to hand over the information to get them into the phone.
The move by the FBI to try and force Google to turn over the information–including email subscriber information, emails, text messages and Internet access data–leads to some interesting questions.
“[I]t suggests that a warrant might be enough to get Google to unlock a phone. Presumably, this is not the first time that the FBI has requested Google unlock a phone, so one would assume that the FBI would request the right kind of order. However, we do not know if Google has complied with the request. Given that an unlocked smartphone will continue to receive text messages and new emails (transmitted after the device was first seized), one could reasonably argue that the government should have to obtain a wiretap order in order to unlock the phone,” Chris Soghoian, a privacy advocate and security researcher, wrote in a blog post on the case.
The FBI special agent who wrote the affidavit also requested that Dears not be told about the information request, however the search warrant and affidavit were not sealed.