Tuesday, April 20

NYPD has not returned 40% of cell phones seized last year; they are an “open book” of evidence and profiles


They have become a “mirror” of life.

Photo: MANAN VATSYAYANA / AFP / Getty Images

It is never easy to lose a cell phone under any circumstances: they are lost, stolen and, for the police, they are artifacts full of very valuable “private” information that could take a long time to be processed.

NYPD seized more than 55,000 phones in 2020, according to municipal figures, and only returned 60% of them. Most of those affected are young, much underage. And although the amount seized was less than the 90,000 the year before the pandemic, so was the percentage returned in 2019 (70%).

Children, Parents, and Juvenile Justice Advocates interviewed by The City They say that when a young person’s cell phone is confiscated during the pandemic, the cost goes beyond discomfort and frustration: they lose a life preserver to communicate, report security problems, go through paperwork, and possibly even access the school.

And although the Recent lawsuits and City Council legislation have attempted to expedite the return of property, Many say closed courts and other coronavirus restrictions have made getting phones back harder than ever.

Meanwhile, some attorneys representing minors wonder if phones are always really necessary as evidence in most cases confiscated from adolescents, while the expansion of Gang and DNA databases, booming social media with dial-up access.

A group of privacy advocates have been fighting the NYPD in court to better understand why cell phones are confiscated from New Yorkers and what happens when they are taken away.

“This seems to be an area where the NYPD is systematically thwarting public oversight… It is very worrying for me, ”said Albert Fox Cahn, executive director of the Surveillance Technology Supervision Project (STOP), who presented a lawsuit against police in 2019 for answers on using “Forensic tools for mobile devices”.

The complaint seeks to help the public better understand how NYPD may be using devices that can enter and extract data from cell phones in a city with a track record of kids through the apps on their phones. One area the NYPD refuses to disclose is revealing which particular crimes are subject to cell phone seizures and searches.

STOP represents Upturn, a nonprofit technology justice organization that recently published a report, titled “Mass extraction”, Over the efforts to understand how law enforcement agencies across the country use the devices. The New York police were among those who refused to release data, according to the report.

A spokesman for the NYPD declined to say what percentage of phones withheld as evidence were they ever opened with a court order, or what kind of training officers receive for these procedures.

Oren Yaniv, spokesman for the Brooklyn district attorney, said that decisions to unlock phones are made on a case-by-case basis. Their counterparts in Queens said that they return almost all the properties for which they receive applications, and that since 2019 almost all (93%) of the 4,700 requests have been granted and others have been deferred for legal reasons.

But They were unable to say whether the returns were before or after court proceedings concluded, or how many search warrants had been issued to decrypt mobile devices. Representatives for district attorneys for the Bronx, Manhattan and Staten Island did not respond to requests for comment.

Before cases involving minors are transferred or filed in the Family Court, the record has to go through a probation department for review. The process means that minors whose phones are checked as evidence face an additional delay of up to 90 days for the case to be turned over to prosecutors, before they can request a return letter.

The Legal Department, which represents the city in Family Court, understands “the greater importance of cell phones and other devices in meeting families’ need for access to school and services during this difficult time,” commented the Head of the Family Court Division, Jennifer Gilroy Ruiz, in a statement. While, thousands are still waiting.




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