A Michigan woman is suing a police officer who used the baby monitor app on her fiance’s cell phone that he confiscated when the fiance was arrested, to spy on her while she was nude and breastfeeding her son.
Note that nothing has been proved yet, so this is only claims and allegations, but it points to a whole new series of issues, concerns and challenges that we didn’t even have to think about just a few years ago. A few years ago, baby monitors only let you hear, not see and at most, you were worried about the sound being heard by your neighbor on their radio, because that was a far as it could possibly reach. This is not really a story about a baby monitor, but rather about how technology is changing our lives and shaping what are kids are going to deal with. These challenges will not end in our lifetime or even our kid’s lifetimes. People will need to consider and deal with a whole new set of issues that were not possible before.
The woman in the lawsuit first noticed that the LED on the baby monitor was flashing while she was breastfeeding her son and given that her fiance wasn’t using it, that meant someone else was.
Later that night she saw the light flashing again and realized that someone was watching her again and when she reacted, the light stopped flashing.
WARNING: Just because the light is not flashing does not mean that you are safe. It is certainly possible that the baby monitor could be hacked to operate without turning on the LED. We have seen many demonstrations of this on phones. But, certainly, if the light is flashing, it is likely that someone is looking. Not all monitors have a feature like that.
The lady then used the “find my iPhone” feature and found that the phone was located in the Hazel Park, Michigan home of police officer Michael Emmi.
The police chief seems to be siding with the police officer, so this may all play out in court. Or, it may be settled out of court. To me, if true, the find my iPhone locating the phone at the house of the police officer is a bit of a red flag. You don’t take evidence home as a general rule.
There are several things that come to mind as a result of this incident:
- Put a strong password on your phone.
- Do NOT unlock it just because a police officer asks. Consult with your attorney. As a general rule, in the most cooperative case, you want the police to get a warrant and you want the judge to limit what they can look for. If possible, you would like your attorney present while they rummage through the phone. They are likely going to take an image of the phone when they unlock it and you want to the court to specify how they need to protect the data if they do that.
- If there are adult images on the phone (as opposed to the guy with the child porn in an earlier post), fess up to that to your attorney. The attorney may be able to get the court to require that those images be deleted prior to imaging – or at least protected – since they are likely not to be relevant.
- If you have been texting adult images, you are likely S.O.L. since the cops can get those texts with a warrant from the carrier.
- Some secure messaging services require a separate password to start the app, but if you tell the app to save the password, then that does not help. SECURITY. CONVENIENCE. PICK ONE AND ONLY ONE. Consider what you are using the phone for, your level of concern and then make choices you can live with.
- This does not only affect YOUR phone. In this case, it was not the woman’s phone, it was her boyfriend’s phone. We have seen many cases of schools confiscating kids phones and searching them. I am sure that there are “inappropriate” images on many kids phones, especially the older kids. This means you need to train your entire family.
- Most courts (with the one I reported on recently being an exception and that is being appealed), will not require you to divulge your password. Fingerprints yes, passwords no. Your attorney may be able to negotiate some form of immunity for unlocking your phone if you are a small fish in the police’s mind.
- Some phones can be remotely wiped. I have no idea if this is legal if the phone has been confiscated. Protocol should require the phone to be place in a shielded bag and sealed to stop anyone from remotely wiping it , but I doubt all police departments do that. If the phone is in a bag or powered off, the remote wipe won’t work, but it may automatically wipe it when the phone comes back online.
There is an ongoing tension between people’s privacy and law enforcement’s need to investigate crimes. In this case, the phone was confiscated from someone who was arrested on marijuana charges. I gather, although it doesn’t say so, that the crime was not smoking a joint, it was something more serious. If you don’t want the cops searching your phone, the first thing you might want to consider is not growing or selling illegal drugs.
All of this just points to the fact that our world is changing as tech becomes an integrated part of our lives and the law is going to have to adjust.
This is just my two cents – remember, I am not a lawyer and do not play one on the Internet.
Information for this post came from the Detroit Free Press.