The Cameraphone Evidence Question And Other Mobile Legal Issues
By Mike Masnick, Tue Apr 19 02:30:00 GMT 2005

One of the "features" of a cameraphone is that photos can quickly, easily and often automatically be placed on a server somewhere. That feature is now raising an important legal question over how police can use cameraphone snapshots.

All of the recent hacks against the servers for T-Mobile's Sidekick smartphone device (run by Danger, Inc.) helped to show some of the security risks associated with real-time syncing of data services on a handset and on a server. However, it's also raising some interesting legal questions that haven't been explored before, and for which the law may not have easy answers.

The latest example of this is a court case in North Carolina, where a judge needs to sort out whether or not the police had the right to access cameraphone photos stored on a Sprint server after a man used the phone to snap some pictures of himself sexually assaulting a woman who had passed out. Rather than getting the photos off the cameraphone itself, the police got a warrant to have Sprint hand over the photos -- which the man in question claims was an illegal search and seizure.

In this case, with the clear search warrant, and the amount of evidence suggesting that the cameraphone photos would reveal incriminating details, it seems likely that the evidence was legally obtained. However, future cases may not always be so clear. In the case of a cameraphone owner who snaps some photos, who is legally the owner of those snapshots? Is it the person who took them, or can the mobile operator on whose servers the photos are stored claim ownership? This question is just the latest in what's going to be a long string of similar questions raised by the changing nature of storage and content when everything is connected and mobile. While it may not seem like a major deal, this same issue can play out in a number of different ways, from questions about who owns music that is streaming to mobile phones to who has access to addressbook information. As mobile phone devices become more central to our lives, and everything we do is connected, the legal questions become more complex -- and so far it doesn't appear that most legislators have thought about many of these issues, meaning things are going to get a lot messier before we have clear rules set up.