A man transported a minor across state lines to have sex, and got extra time because he used his cell phone to entice her.
A Motorola Razr V3 which could access the Internet was the device that added to his woes, although Internet access is not what specifically cooked his goose.
A New Orleans, Louisiana District Judge made a landmark decision – that a cell phone can be considered to be a computer.
That determination in this case, United States v. Neil Scott Kramer, 10-1983, can have far reaching effects in attempts to collect evidence in criminal cases.
Previously, cell phones didn’t fall under the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution requiring law enforcement to obtain a search warrant to access a suspect’s computer.
A perpetrator’s phone could be confiscated without question before they had a chance to erase anything. Hands off wasn’t the rule since the devices weren’t considered to be computers until the recent ruling.
If that ruling will hold up is another matter. So far, a three-judge panel of the St. Louis-based 8th Circuit upheld the sentence, finding the federal definition of computer is broad enough to encompass cellphones.
The legal definition was extracted from 18 U.S.C. § 1030 : US Code - Section 1030: Fraud and related activity in connection with computers, which reads:
the term ‘computer’ means an electronic, magnetic, optical, electrochemical, or other high speed data processing device performing logical, arithmetic, or storage functions, and includes any data storage facility or communications facility directly related to or operating in conjunction with such device, but such term does not include an automated typewriter or typesetter, a portable hand held calculator, or other similar device.
Kramer used his cell phone to make voice calls and send text messages to the young girl over a six-month period that lead to his sexual encounter with her. In the attorney’s attempt to classify his cell phone as a computer, the prosecution produced the Motorola user's manual and a printout from their website to describe the phone's features.
Here are excerpts from their reasoning which indicated that the phone was an electronic data processor. It has: a 680 mAh Li-ion battery, 5MB of memory, is capable of running software, uses a Graphic Accelerator to run its color display screens, and there was a notice that the phone may have software stored in semiconductor memories or other media.
They contended that the processor performs arithmetic, logical, and storage functions when the phone is used to place a call. They pointed out that the user's manual says the phone "keeps lists of incoming and outgoing calls, displays the phone number for incoming calls, keeps track of the Network connection time, which is the elapsed time between when the user connects to the service provider's network to when the user disconnects by pushing the end key.
Their conclusion was that the counting function by itself was sufficient to show that the phone performs logical and arithmetic operations when placing calls. They continued that when sending text messages, the phone stores sets of characters that are available to a user when typing a message. It keeps track of the entered text which the user can select to delete character by character or entirely. The user can set and switch between entry modes, including "iTAP" mode which uses software to predict each word as it is entered. These capabilities all support the district court's finding that the phone performed arithmetic, logical, and storage functions when Kramer used it to send text messages to the minor.
Now that a cell phone is officially viewed as a computer, I can just see a “perp” on the CSI (Crime Scene Investigation) TV program, yelling “You can’t do that. Show me a search warrant,” as the detective scrolls through the guy’s cell phone to see the last number called – usually that of his accomplice in the crime he’s just been nabbed for.
The laws don’t change as fast as technology does, but we can always count on TV to be proactive in exploring the issues. You can see a video of the phone that caused the furor in the real courtroom.