Q: Can I “unlock” my cell phone to get service from a different carrier?
A: Yes. It is technologically possible to UNLOCK a phone so it will work for a different carrier. This practice, called “flashing” a phone, is common and legal practice in Europe, where international travel across different national cell-service-provider carriers is usual.
In North America, unlocking a phone is sometimes called “jailbreaking,” which is currently illegal in the United States. If you want to change carriers, you must obtain a cell phone that works on the new carrier’s system. You cannot modify your existing phone without violating federal copyright law.
Q: What types of information does my cell phone service provider collect?
A: All cell phones require a service provider to connect the phone to the network. The most common types of information service providers collect include:
• phone numbers you have called and phone numbers from which you have received calls;
• the amount of time you spend on each call;
• incoming and outgoing text messages;
• times and dates you used your phone to access the Internet;
• the IP address assigned to your phone during your Internet sessions;
• the IP addresses of the websites you visited during Internet sessions;
• the geophysical location of your phone.
In addition, Microsoft, Blackberry, Android phone and Apple iPhone service providers save passwords and collect Wi-Fi connections. They can also collect application data.
Q: What other types of information stored in my phone may be accessed without my knowledge by malware, spyware or other harmful programs?
A: Potentially, all information on your cell phone can be compromised. This includes:
• photos and videos stored on the phone or its “sd” memory card;
• text messages;
• your contact list;
• financial information;
• your calendar.
Q: How can these harmful programs get onto my cell phone?
A: You can infect your phone with such harmful programs by installing applications, clicking on ads built to infect your cell phone, or by clicking on phony cell phone updates.
Q: Can my cell phone information be accessed or stolen in other ways?
A: Yes. Whenever you use your cell phone over an unsecured Wi-Fi connection, anyone in the vicinity can intercept data you type into your phone and send over the wireless network. Take special care when using unsecured Wi-Fi connections, and do not transmit password, banking or other financial data unless you are certain the data is being encrypted.
Q: What should I do if I lose my cell phone?
A: Immediately contact your cell phone service provider. Also, you can install onto your cell phone a “remote wiping” software capability that you can access if your phone is lost or stolen. Because your cell phone also may store a great deal of sensitive personal information, including login and password information, you should treat the loss of your cell phone as a potential identity theft event.
Q: Can my cell-phone be bugged or configured to remotely monitor my activities?
A: Yes, but it would require physical access to the phone. Such activity may be legal or illegal. For example, it is legal for parents to install special software onto their children’s phones to allow parents to receive text messages about the phone’s location, any calls made and copies of text messages. It is illegal, however, to divulge information obtained by intercepting messages sent over an interstate communications carrier line, according to the Federal Communications Act of 1934, and federal courts generally do not allow wiretap evidence to be used.
This “Law You Can Use” column was provided by the Ohio State Bar Association. It was prepared by Donald A. Wochna, chief legal officer and Hayden Pritchard, CCE, CCFE, ACE, AME, for Vestige Digital Investigations.