A judge has backed a request from the FBI from Google for assistance in obtaining the secrets held on the Android smartphone of a hustler described as a founding member of the "Pimpin' Hoes Daily" (PhD) gang in San Diego.
The FBI is seeking information that includes tips on how to get past a pattern lock.
Dante Dears was jailed for four years back in 2005 on charges of kidnapping and pimping, largely of under-age teenage prostitutes, according to local reports by the San Diego Tribune at the time.
After Dears was released from prison in 2009, he violated his parole and was again returned to prison for another one-and-a-half years. He was released last spring. But the Feds suspected he had returned to his old business after an informant tipped off the FBI's human trafficking squad that the offender was again up to no good.
Conditions set in Dears' parole allowed law enforcement to search his home. The raid led to the seizure of an Android phone, which Dears claimed belonged to his sister. The agents were unable to either bypass or guess the pattern lock used by the phone, and only succeeded in locking it.
Frustrated in its attempts to get at the secrets on the phone, the FBI filed a warrant on in order to compel Google to assist it.
The 9 March warrant (PDF) requested that Google turn over subscription and billing information, contact lists, emails, web and GPS history as well as instructions for overriding the pattern lock and the pass-number reset (PUK) number.
The warrant covers the period between 1 June 2011 and 17 January 2012, the date when the Samsung SGH T-679 was seized.
The request is akin to asking a telecom operators for phone call history or an ISP for internet use data. It is likely that federal agents only really need call logs to make a case but the warrant does illustrate a couple of wider points that are relevant to the population at large, and not just crooks.
Firstly, the warrant shows the sheer volume of data that smartphones collect on their users. The warrant also shows that Google might be in possession of as much, if not more, data than the mobile service provider.
Lastly, the case suggests that pattern locks might be good enough to block access to smartphones seized by non-specialist law enforcements officials, at least. ®