State police forces and highway patrols in the US have collectively spent millions of dollars on this sort of technology to break into and extract data from mobile phones, according to documents obtained by Motherboard. Over 2,000 pages of invoices, purchase orders, communications, and other documents lay out in unprecedented detail how one company in particular has cornered the trade in mobile phone forensics equipment across the United States.
Cellebrite, an Israel-based firm, sells tools that can pull data from most mobile phones on the market, such as contact lists, emails, and wiped messages. Cellebrite’s products can also circumvent the passcode locks or other security protections on many current mobile phones. The gear is typically used to gather evidence from a criminal suspect’s device after it has been seized, and although not many public examples of abuse are available, Cellebrite’s tools have been used by non-US authorities to prosecute dissidents.
Previous reports have focused on federal agencies’ acquisition of Cellebrite tools. But as smartphones have proliferated and increasingly become the digital center of our lives, the demand and supply of mobile forensics tools has trickled down to more local bodies.