The New York Daily News reports:
The NYPD is amassing a database of cell phone users, instructing cops to log serial numbers from suspects’ phones in hopes of connecting them to past or future crimes.
In the era of disposable, anonymous cell phones, the file could be a treasure-trove for detectives investigating drug rings and other criminal enterprises, police sources say. […]
A recent internal memo says that when cops make an arrest, they should remove the suspect’s cell phone battery to avoid leakage – then jot down the International Mobile Equipment Identity number.
The IMEI number is registered with the service provider whenever a call is made.
And that data could allow a detective to match, for example, a cell phone used by one suspect to a phone used by another.
There are limits to the data’s usefulness – all Chinese-made cells sold in India have the same number and some overseas cells are embedded with fake numbers.
Still, civil libertarians are alarmed by the new policy since normally a warrant is needed to obtain information such as calls made or numbers in an address book.
In December, the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed a lower court ruling (pdf) that an investigative stop of a vehicle (also called a Terry stop after the Terry v. Ohio case), did not permit a police officer to open the driver’s mobile phone and find the subscriber number associated with the phone.
In March, the Obama administration claimed in a Third Circuit case that the Fourth Amendment prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures does not apply to cell-site data that mobile phone carriers retain on their customers. The ACLU, Center for Democracy and Technology, and Electronic Frontier Foundation filed an amicus brief (pdf) in the case, saying that location data kept by a cellphone provider is legally protected and urging the appeals court to uphold the lower court ruling against the government.