The FBI are apparently baffled by new technology. In this case, they cannot seem to figure out how to get past the lock screen on an Android smartphone. Why would the FBI be outsmarted by a small piece of protection software and why can't they just ask one of their CSI buddies? Great questions!
The FBI has taken possession of a phone from Dante Dears. Dante is a convicted felon and founder of a San Diego gang named "Pimpin' Hoes Daily." (No, that's not a typo there and it's probably the only time I can use those words, in any order, on this publication.) When Dears was released from prison in January of 2009, reports have it that he went back to his old hood, probably near the playgrounds where he spent most of his younger days, and realigned himself with the same homies that put him in the slammer in the first place. So, the FBI was granted a search warrant to get a hold of his phone. However, on March 9, FBI agent Jonathon Cupina writes to the US District Court saying that their Regional Computer Forensics Lab team could not figure out the lock pattern on the phone after trying "multiple times" to get into it.
Now, they are ordering Google to get involved and get this thing unlocked. What is happening here? We have the details after the break.
The FBI has issued a search warrant that demands Google aid them in the unlocking of the phone. This warrant and affidavit (PDF) was first discovered by Christopher Soghoian of the Center for Applied Cybersecurity Research. He posted on his personal blog this week in regards to the entire matter. Specifically, he asks why the FBI needed Google's help when they could simply "use commercially available forensics tools or widely documented hardware-hacking techniques" to get into Dears' phone.
Regardless of the FBI's lack of talent to break into a smartphone (an Android one, at that), the interesting thing here to note is that a warrant might be all that is needed to have the mighty Google's hand forced to unlock this thing.
Also, because the phone will still receive texts, calls and emails while in the FBI's possession (we assume he's paid the bill and isn't on Net10 or something), curiosity surrounds the FBI not seeking a surveillance permit or permission to access the phone. Even more interesting is the fact that the FBI has requested that Dears not be told at all about their request to get the data off the phone. If that is the case, all of these documents that have been found should have been sealed.
All of this is a little bit confusing and suspicious to say the least. I'd like to know if Google is really going to unlock this thing, as we've not heard one way or the other about that aspect yet. If we find out anything else, we'll let you know. Maybe Dears was smart and didn't keep much on his phone so then the FBI will have to go after his email account and the attached cloud storage.
Pimpin' sure ain't easy.
Photo courtesy of The Boondocks