US Police Can Use Aluminium Foil To Block Smartphone Wiping

Warrant or No, Cops Can Use Aluminium Foil To Block Smartphone Wiping

The legal debate over whether police need a warrant to search a suspect's mobile phone is more than just raging on -- it's headed to the US Supreme Court. But even if the highest court in the US decides a warrant is needed, the authorities could still block Americans from remote-wiping their phones while they wait for the legal OK to search. And all it takes is the aluminium foil in your kitchen.

Yes, law Professor Adam Gershowitz recommends that, in cases where police have seized a phone but aren't yet allowed (legally) to search it, they should wrap the phone in multiple layers of aluminium foil to block remote bricking or wiping. The foil would create an improvised Faraday cage, blocking all wireless signals until a warrant is obtained. Naturally, the paper also recommends commercially available Faraday bags or data extraction software, but the improvised aluminium foil method seems much more likely to be used by cops on patrol.

This is obviously a very sticky issue. The Obama Administration supports existing laws, which view mobile phones in the same category as any other personal belonging -- wallets, address books, purses -- which the law has always allowed cops to search without a warrant after an arrest. Opponents argue that smartphones, capable of accessing a person's banking, email, online purchasing and the like, aren't simply items found in a person's pocket, and should fall under the constitutional prohibition of unreasonable search and seizure.

Lower courts have issued conflicting rulings, so this topic is likely headed for the next US Supreme Court session in October. For now, however, that's just one more measure of privacy foiled. [Social Science Research Network via Gigaom]

Picture: Shutterstock/Suzanne Tucker