U.S. Schools Using Hacking Tools To View Encrypted Data on Students’ Phones

Cellebrite became broadly known in 2016 after an offer to hack the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone for the FBI. They are one of a handful of companies that make universal forensic extraction devices to access encrypted data on cell phones.

These sorts of tools are used by government agencies around the world. ICE has a $35 million contract with Cellebrite, the government of Myanmar used this type of tech to search the phones of two jailed journalists, and U.S. Public schools also seem to be making use of these devices. A report published today by Gizmodo shows some U.S. public schools are spending money for access to these phone hacking tools.

“In March 2020, the North East Independent School District, a largely Hispanic district north of San Antonio, wrote a check to Cellebrite for $6,695 for “General Supplies.” In May, Cypress-Fairbanks ISD near Houston, Texas, paid Oxygen Forensics Inc., another mobile device forensics firm, $2,899. Not far away, majority-white Conroe ISD wrote a check to Susteen Inc., the manufacturer of the similar Secure View system, for $995 in September 2016.” Reads the Gizmodo report.

Gizmodo says they reviewed similar accounting documents from eight school districts, “showing that administrators paid as much [as] $11,582” to Cellebrite. The article notes these districts “encompass hundreds of schools” and potentially expose hundreds of thousands of students to phone searches.

The full report in Gizmodo is well worth reading, and highly disturbing, as The Supreme Court ruled that school districts are not required to seek a warrant to search students’ devices when they are on campus. Per SCOTU, school officials require only reasonable suspension of a student’s guilt to search them.

Photo by bantersnaps on Unsplash

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