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High-Tech Police Spying Sparks Privacy Battle

Celebrite UFED

The Michigan branch of the ACLU has been probing police department use of a device by UFED, which can extract data in mere minutes from almost any cellular phone. (Celebrite)

Michigan State Police Thursday defended their use of a high-tech device that connects to almost any personal cell phone -- and in mere minutes downloads its entire contents, including call logs, texts, photos and web history.

State police say the device, called the Cellebrite UFED, is an effective tool in fighting crime. But the Michigan branch of the ACLU disagrees, fearing that cops are abusing the device -- even using it on routine arrests and traffic stops.

"We believe that [the police] are using new devices that allow them to extract information from cell phones without a warrant, and using them during routine traffic stops," Kary Moss, executive director of the Michigan ACLU, told FoxNews.com.

Michigan State Police spokesman Tiffany Brown told FoxNews.com Thursday that the devices are only used to gather evidence for serious cases such as crimes against children -- and that it has never been the department's policy to use the device during routine traffic stops. 

But Brown declined to say whether the device has ever been used in traffic stops, saying instead that there have been no citizen complaints or lawsuits.

"The [department] only uses the device if a search warrant is obtained or with consent," Brown added.

To test that, the ACLU submitted a Freedom of Information Act request, demanding police records on how the devices were used, following nearly three years of questions over UFED devices. The police department initially replied that it would cost $500,000 to comb through the records and pick out the relevant ones. The ACLU, which would have to pay the tab, balked at the amount.

The police department says it is doing its best to cooperate with the request.

"The [department] has worked with the ACLU to narrow the focus, and thus reduce the cost, of its initial Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request," the department noted in a statement released Thursday. The statement reaffirms the department's claims that no one has complained about its use of the Cellebrite gadget.

"To be clear, there have not been any allegations of wrongdoing by the MSP in the use of DEDs," it reads.

ALCU Attorney Mark Fancher, who filed an official letter of complaint with the agency on April 13, said he'll believe it when he sees it.

"We continue to have great difficulty getting those documents," he told FoxNews.com.

The State Police, meanwhile, have accused the ACLU of getting in the way of its main job: solving crimes.

"The implication by the ACLU that the [department] uses these devices "quietly to bypass Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches" is untrue, and this divisive tactic unjustly harms police and community relations," the statement reads.

"[The devices] have become a powerful investigative tool used to obtain critical information from criminals," the statement says.