The FBI has obtained a warrant forcing Google to unlock the Android phone of Dante Dears, a previously convicted pimp and founder of a massive San Diego prostitution ring.
The issue centers on Dears, a Chula Vista, Calif., resident and founder of the "Pimpin' Hoes Daily" (PhD) prostitution ring, who served a four-year term in state prison beginning in 2005 for beating a 15-year-old girl he recruited from a downtown San Diego homeless shelter.
Security researcher Chris Soghoian broke the story on his "Slight Paranoia" blog, and posted a link to the FBI's warrant request, issued March 9, which details that after Dears' release in January 2009, he violated his parole three times, and went back to the slammer for another year-and-a-half.
Upon his release in May 2011, an FBI source met with Dears at his Chula Vista home — he remains under house arrest tethered to a GPS electronic monitor until January 2013 — and observed him continuing to run his prostitution ring using his Android phone.
"The Source observed Dears taking several telephone calls where he discussed the night's prostitution activities," the court document reads. "He also sent multiple text messages throughout the evening. Shortly after sending a message, a woman would arrive at the apartment and give Dears money. Subsequently, Dears texted another message, and another woman showed up and gave him money."
The state parole agent assigned to monitor Dears seized the pimp's Samsung Exhibit II Android phone on Jan. 17, but Dears refused to unlock the phone's screen or provide the agent with his login credentials. (His refusal violates the conditions of his parole, which state that he "Shall not use any method to hide or prevent unauthorized users from viewing specific data or files" on his phone.)
On Feb. 14, agents at the FBI Regional Computer Forensics Lab in Orange County were unable to get past Dears' "pattern lock," Soghoian explained; without Dears' Gmail username and password, their efforts to crack his phone came to a standstill. This prompted the FBI, on March 9, to serve Google with a warrant, which was granted the day it was filed, Ars Technica reported.
In its search warrant request, the FBI wants Google to divulge Dears' Social Security number, account login and password, all emails and contacts stored on the phone, all texts sent and received, (including photo and video messages), the time and duration of every Web page he visited and all search terms, Internet browsing history and GPS data Google has stored for the phone from June 1, 2011, through Jan. 17, 2012.
On his blog, Soghoian wrote that, because Dears' unlocked phone will continue to receive texts and emails, "one could reasonably argue that the government should have to obtain a wiretap in order to unlock the phone."
It is not known if it will comply with the FBI warrant. In an email to SecurityNewsDaily, a Google spokesperson said the company does not comment on specific cases. "Like all law-abiding companies, we comply with valid legal process," Google said. "Whenever we receive a request we make sure it meets both the letter and spirit of the law before complying. If we believe a request is overly broad, we will seek to narrow it."