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Racine County's new tool to download cell data concerns some

Posted: 5:03 PM, Mar 13, 2019
Updated: 2019-03-13 22:38:33Z
Cellebrite in Racine County

The Racine County Sheriff’s Office has a new tool at its disposal that can help access information from technology more efficiently, but it’s causing some privacy concerns.

It’s called Cellebrite, and it’s computer software that can extract data off anything from a cellphone to a tablet.

Last month, the county board approved the purchase after the sheriff’s office received a state grant for $11,500.

Sheriff Chris Schmaling said having Cellebrite will change the way they work.

“This isn’t new technology. It’s just new to us in terms of getting it done timely,” he said.

In the past, getting information from a device could take months, and they had to wait in line with other agencies.

Cellebrite technology in Racine County

“I don’t want to box this cellphone up and send it to the state crime laboratory, and it may be two, three, four days. It may be a week to get this information back. It might be too late at that point,” Schmaling said.

Forensic analyst Camille Garvida has been learning how to use the software.

“You’re able to get some kind of information, such as text messages, phone calls, images, media files,” she said.

It takes only about an hour until investigators can have data to help find missing people or make cases against sex offenders and drug dealers.

“I don’t want to box this cellphone up and send it to the state crime laboratory, and it may be two, three, four days. It may be a week to get this information back. It might be too late at that point.” — Racine County Sheriff Chris Schmaling

However, the tool concerns County Supervisor Fabi Maldonado, one of two people who voted against it.

“The idea that somebody could just like go into your phone and take all your data, all your information, it scares a lot of people,” Maldonado said.

He said poor residents in his district have shared stories with him about law enforcement intruding on their privacy.

“They never were, you know, given the right process to obtain certain information,” Maldonado said.

Racine County Sheriff's Office

The sheriff says that won’t happen.

They can only access a device with someone’s consent, a search warrant or if there’s a pressing situation.

“The law has not changed. This is just technology to further enhance our ability to solve crime and potentially save a life,” Schmaling said.

He expects to start using the software in about two weeks and plans to make it available to neighboring agencies.