April 21, 2011 / 4:22 PM / 8 years ago

Michigan police and ACLU in flap over cell phone downloads

DETROIT (Reuters) - The American Civil Liberties Union said on Thursday it wants to know how the Michigan State Police have been using devices capable of downloading text messages, address books and other data from cell phones.

The Data Extraction Devices are commonly used to transfer data from an old cell phone to a new one, but are also a law enforcement tool for obtaining information such as erased text messages.

The state police said in a statement on Wednesday it will respond to a Freedom of Information Act request from ACLU for information, but that complying costs money.

Police said they are using the devices in certain criminal cases, but after obtaining a search warrant or with the cell phone owner’s consent.

“The implication by the ACLU that the (state police) uses these devices ‘quietly to bypass Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches’ is untrue, and this divisive tactic unjustly harms police and community relations,” the state police said.

“We only wanted assurances that these devices were being used lawfully,” ACLU of Michigan attorney Mark Fancher said in a telephone interview on Thursday, adding that the group had made its first request for the information in 2008.

To comply with the ACLU’s initial request, the state police demanded more than $500,000 to cover expenses, the ACLU says.

The requests have since been honed down by the two sides, but the ACLU has yet to get the information it seeks.

“The result has been we’re not getting the documents,” Fancher said.

He said the devices cost around $3,000 each, and the Michigan State Police have five.

Reporting by Andrew Stern and Bernie Woodall. Editing by David Bailey and Peter Bohan

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