Police Departments Delay Plans For Proposed Cell Phone Software

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Athens Police Department is putting plans to implement a new cell phone search software on hold in light of recent privacy concerns expressed by Athens City Council members Monday.

Ohio University Police Chief Andrew Powers said the OU Police Department and the Athens Police Department had discussed jointly purchasing a software upgrade, which would allow police officers to search the content of all cell phones legally acquired by the departments.

He said the new software would help the police departments build cases against stalkers, threats and solve other crimes.

Athens City Council member Jeffery Risner said several council members are concerned that the new software would violate the privacy of Athens residents.

"Privacy is the utmost concern for us, but we understand that there are criminal investigations that need to go forward and this type of software would be of use," Risner said.

He said it is crucial that the police departments adopt clear guidelines and procedures before the new software is implemented.

Risner said he has compiled a list of questions and concerns that he expects Athens Police Chief Tom Pyle to address at the next city council meeting on Monday.

"What happens to the information that the private citizen has had downloaded? Is it erased? Is it archived? Does it go into an evidence room? What happens to all the phone numbers, photos and text messages that were extracted from a private citizen's cell phone?" Risner said.

Pyle said Wednesday he would not comment about the proposed software until speaking to council members about their concerns next week.

Powers said the proposed update is necessary to help officers solve outstanding crimes.

"Almost every investigation we have today involves electronic media. It is initial part of how people go about their lives," said Powers.

Powers said the police department's current system for searching the content of mobile devices is limiting to its investigation procedures.

Pyle said the Athens Police Department does not currently have a system for searching cell phone data.