Idaho police force invests in AI-powered remote phone access tech

October 24, 2023
AI Idaho

The Nampa Police Department in Idaho is set to implement AI in unlocking cell phones and navigating through personal data. 

This follows the Nampa City Council’s approval to acquire advanced digital forensics technology from Cellebrite, an Israeli company known for its mobile data extraction tools for law enforcement and governmental bodies.

“The new software will help ‘filter information, organize information more efficiently as it is being downloaded so that the officer that’s doing the examination of that can do that more efficiently,’” Capt. Eric Skoglund of the Nampa Police told the Idaho Statesman.

He emphasized the software’s ability to sort information based on requirements, reducing the time spent sorting through the entire phone. 

However, Skoglund explained that legal boundaries are respected, stating, “The department still must either have a search warrant from a judge or the phone owner’s consent.”

Anxiety surrounding the police’s use of AI has increased after widespread publicity surrounding facial recognition technology, which has resulted in wrongful imprisonment.

Predictive policing efforts have repeatedly failed, leaving a trail of bias and discrimination in their wake. Using AI tools to scan phones remotely might be a new frontier.

Leah Lazarz from Cellebrite clarified their operations are “legally” and “ethically” conducted. 

Cellebrite offers a vast range of tools for both the public sector and enterprises. Their technologies enable clients to access devices remotely, both in law enforcement scenarios and for corporate investigations. 

Lazarz further mentioned, “We enable our law enforcement to collect and review, analyze, and manage data in a lawful and auditable manner – when subpoenaed by a judge after a crime occurs– and provide them with solutions to do this ethically while protecting privacy.”

However, a previous report by TechCrunch in August disclosed concerns, revealing that a Cellebrite employee had advised law enforcement trainees to keep the use of their technology in solving crimes “as hush-hush as possible,” sparking debates among criminal defense attorneys and digital rights groups.

“We don’t really want any techniques to leak in court through disclosure practices, or you know, ultimately in testimony, when you are sitting in the stand, producing all this evidence and discussing how you got into the phone,” said one unnamed Cellebrite employee. 

Skoglund expressed his comfort in discussing the technology’s applications but chose not to disclose specifics to protect Cellebrite’s licensing. 

He also compared the remote search of a phone to that of a vehicle or residence regarding legality. 

While such technologies advertise their legality on paper, that doesn’t always remain the case once they’re deployed in real-world scenarios.

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Sam Jeans

Sam is a science and technology writer who has worked in various AI startups. When he’s not writing, he can be found reading medical journals or digging through boxes of vinyl records.

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