The Story an iPhone Tells in the Hands of Law Enforcement

Smartphone users aren’t fully aware of how much sensitive information their friendly “personal assistant” – in this case the iPhone or any other smart device – stores, and what the government can obtain about the owners when they get their hands on it.


The American Civil Liberties Union obtained a report (Via Forbes) from a drug investigation by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency documenting the seizure and the search of a suspect’s iPhone from her bedroom.

The full report available at the end of this post sheds light on the inventory of the types of data that federal agents are able to obtain using advanced forensic data tools.

There is no surprise that the iPhone – just like other smartphones – carries plenty of sensitive information, but when you face the facts it’s a bit shocking. Here is what the investigators found after analyzing the suspect’s iPhone:

  • call activity
  • phone book directory information
  • stored voicemails and text messages
  • photos and videos
  • apps
  • eight different passwords
  • 659 geolocation points, including 227 cell towers and 403 WiFi networks with which the cell phone had previously connected.

In this case, the ICE obtained the data with help from forensic firm Cellite, and it seems like the passcode lock feature was disabled. But even with these security features on, the most recent security flaws open the door to the iPhone’s data. Also, as you may imagine, law enforcement has been able to bypass the iPhone’s security measure other ways, either with the help of tools or by mailing the phone to Apple to extract the data.

Currently, if the phone has a passcode lock the police have to obtain a search warrant to search through the phone, but the legality of warrantless searches remains an open issue.

Here is the full document detailing the iPhone’s forensic search:

iPhone Seizure Report by Andy Greenberg