Mobile phone privacy double header: iPhones and Michigan police

An Apple employee displays an iPhone showing the Verizon wireless network January 11, 2011, in New York City. In a long-anticipated move, Verizon and Apple have announced that Apple's popular iPhone mobile phone will be offered on a Verizon's phone network.

We have a couple of stories today that might force you to cast a suspicious eye toward your mobile phone. How much does it know and who might it spill the beans to?

First off, the iPhone. At a technology conference in Santa Clara yesterday, it was revealed that your iPhone 4 or 3G-enabled iPad has been keeping a record of all your movements. It knows where you've gone and when you went. It can trace all your movements (or rather its own movements as it rides in your pocket or bag).

What's most disconcerting here is that the device stores all that information in an unencrypted file, making it a lot easier for someone to access your information and know exactly where you've been. A rogue application, for instance, can easily snoop around that part of your phone, get the data and send it anywhere. It's not financial information -- it can't be used in identity theft, for instance -- but it's a privacy issue to be sure. We talk to Ina Fried from All Things Digital on what this all means for the average iPhone user.

We also take a look at a situation in Michigan involving privacy and smartphones. The American Civil Liberties Union says it has reason to believe that police performing routine traffic stops there are using devices that can tap what's on a smartphone and record any data they find. The ACLU has been trying to get an answer from the police about what's going on, but Michigan ACLU Executive Director Kary Moss says they're not being told much. In fact, the organization has been told it must pay over $500,000 in processing fees to get records.

We also talk to Jeffrey Rosen from George Washington University Law School about the issues being raised in this case. He says it certainly seems to run up against 4th Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure. He also points out that courts have been unable to determine how much protection to give data on a smartphone. Is it more like a scrap of paper on the passenger seat or more like a file in a locked file cabinet at home?

About the author

John Moe is the host of Marketplace Tech Report, where he provides an insightful overview of the latest tech news.

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