Berwyn council approves data extraction tool for cops

Request to delay vote until more information provided rejected

Berwyn Mayor Robert Lovero cast his first tiebreaking vote in at least five years when he opposed a request to defer a vote to purchase a tool that would allow the Berwyn Police Department to extract data from cellphones.

After 8th Ward Alderman Joseph Carmichael’s two-week deferral request was denied at the June 8 City Council meeting, council members voted 6-2 to purchase the equipment.

“I don’t see a reason to defer. I think they’ve done enough investigation,” Lovero said. “So I would deny the motion to defer.”

Lovero said Carmichael’s concerns about data storage security, the certification process required for police to use the extraction tool and the policies and procedures in place for collecting data from cellphones could be addressed after the council approved a contract with New Jersey-based Cellebrite.

The company describes itself as “an elite research and development group built of former members of global law enforcement agencies and top Israeli intelligence units.”

The Cellebrite contract calls for a $12,595 initial payment, which includes $3,290 for officer training and certification. The contract includes an annual maintenance/licensing fee of $4,300.

Aldermen Scott Lennon (1st Ward), James Woywood (2nd Ward) and Robert Pabon (5th Ward) joined Carmichael in voting to delay the vote.

Aldermen Richard Leja (3rd Ward) and Robert Fejt (4th Ward) joined Alderwomen Alicia Ruiz (5th Ward) and Mary Beth Aranella (7th Ward) in opposing deferral.

In a June 2 memo to the council, Police Chief Michael Cimaglia said: “Access to cellular telephone data is essential” and the Cellebrite contract would allow police to “extract pertinent information, such as geographical locations, timelines, photographic evidence, suspect/victim relations and conversations, scan social media, and even filter data based on specific topics.”

Lovero, Cimaglia and police Unit Commander Michael Fellows fielded questions at the council meeting.

Carmichael raised several concerns about the extraction tool, including if it would be used during traffic stops or seat belt checks.

The tool would not be used for safety checkpoints, Fellows said.

“And what would be the benefit of using it in the field?” Carmichael replied.

“If the person can’t come to the police station and we want to offer them a service to go out to their home,” and use the tool there, Fellows said.

“And that would be with a warrant? Without a warrant?” Carmichael continued.

Fellows said warrants are “normally used” when dealing with offenders’ phones. “But we offer victims [and] witnesses the opportunity to consent to our search,” he said.

“Do you have a protocol for that?” Carmichael asked.

“It’s like any other criminal investigation,” Lovero said. “Should a suspect decide to waive his rights and volunteer information, he can. But if he doesn’t, they have to get a warrant.”

Carmichael said he was concerned about the consent protocol “because as I’m sure you know, consent tends to disproportionally impact minorities who are being put through the process.”

Cimaglia said consent is video recorded by police.

Data extracted from cellphones would be stored on a hard drive that will be placed in the police evidence vault, Fellows said. But when the data is initially collected, it would be stored on the laptop used by the officer who collected the information, he said.

“I want to know if that computer is connected to the internet because anything that’s connected to the internet can be hackable,” Carmichael said.

“It doesn’t stay on one specific computer. Everything is placed on its own external media and placed in the evidence vault,” Fellows said.

“OK. That’s not quite what it says in here,” Carmichael said referring to the contract.

Cimaglia’s memo to the council said “the initial rollout of the program will be done on a current city desktop. However, should the program not work or not work effectively, the program will require the purchase of a new desktop computer with a faster processor.”

Finally, Carmichael asked how police officers would be certified to use the data extraction tool and how that certification would be vetted.

Fellows said he believed officers would be required to take a weeklong class but did not have details on how officers would be assessed.