Former U.S. Attorney for Utah talks about what FBI can take off your cellphone

Sep 23, 2022, 6:30 PM

SALT LAKE CITY — What can the FBI or law enforcement remove from your personal cellphone? A legal expert talks about how law enforcement is legally allowed to gather evidence of a crime from a personal cellphone and what frustrates police in finding that information.

Mike Lindell, CEO of My Pillow and a prominent backer of former President Donald Trump’s false voter fraud claims, is challenging in federal court the FBI’s recent seizure of his phone at a Hardee’s restaurant drive-thru in Minnesota as he returned from a duck hunting trip, according to CNN.

The Justice Department had obtained a warrant, approved by a federal judge, to perform the search, according to the court record as reported by CNN.

John Huber, former U.S. Attorney for Utah, who served under Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump, joins KSL NewsRadio’s Dave & Dujanovic to explain what the FBI can legally remove from your cellphone.

“Just give us a little bit of insight without giving up any secrets,” Debbie Dujanovic said. “What can the FBI or others possibly see on — like let’s say Dave was accused, our very own Dave Noriega. What could they potentially get off his phone?”

“They’re gonna get Dave’s text messages. They’re gonna get his calendar, his directory, his pictures, videos, notes he’s made preparing for the show . . . his search history. Don’t forget all the things that Dave has looked up on the internet on his phone. They’re going to get,” Huber said.

Dave wanted to know why the FBI has access to all of the content on his cellphone.

FBI can’t just a cellphone

Huber said an FBI agent can’t just walk up to someone on the street or in a drive-thru and take their cellphone. It can only be done with a judge’s approval of a search or seizure warrant.

“That means that an affidavit of the investigation has been given to a federal judge who is independent. That federal judge has signed off on the FBI taking the phone to search for what the judge is convinced is evidence of a federal crime,” Huber said.

Dujanovic asked if passwords or passcodes can help protect a person’s privacy on a cellphone.

Huber said privacy experts at Apple and Google work hard to encrypt their cellphones by giving customers privacy tools. 

“There are a lot of protections that do frustrate police. So, if you want to use WhatsApp instead of iMessage that’s something that adds another layer of protection to the consumer or the individual against government intrusion,” he said.

“I never thought we’d get a tip like that from you, John, but thank you very much. I’ll be downloading WhatsApp right now,” Dujanovic said.


Dave & Dujanovic can be heard weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app, as well as Apple Podcasts and Google Play. 

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Former U.S. Attorney for Utah talks about what FBI can take off your cellphone