COLUMBIA — The ability to peer deep into cellular phones and other mobile devices soon will become part of the Boone County Sheriff’s Department investigatory arsenal.
The department will spend $3,999 on a gizmo that carries an extravagant name. The Universal Forensics Extraction Device, or UFED, is manufactured by CelleBrite, a leading company in the transfer and backup of mobile content. It also sells UFEDs to law enforcement agencies worldwide, according to CelleBrite’s Web site.
The Boone County Commission approved the purchase Tuesday morning. The Mid-Missouri Internet Crimes Task Force will use the device to copy cell phone data — including phone numbers, contacts, pictures, videos, text messages, call logs and even some information the phone owner thinks has been deleted — that might be useful in its investigations.
The UFED is a “known device in forensics investigation tools,” Detective Tracy Perkins of the task force said.
The Mid-Missouri Internet Crimes Task Force focuses much of its resources on child exploitation, serving Boone and the seven surrounding counties. Perkins said the device will be used by the task force lab in a wide variety of investigations.
Having their own UFED will “save a lot of time and travel for the officers involved,” Perkins said. Until now, the task force has had to travel elsewhere to borrow another agency’s UFED.
The ability to extract data from mobile devices raises some privacy concerns.
“Cell phone privacy issues all depend on the case,” Perkins said. With written permission of the user, investigators can access the phone; without it, they would have to get permission from the courts.
The UFED is about the size of a desk phone. Operating as a stand-alone unit or tethered to a computer, the device comes with a host of cables to plug into nearly 2,000 mobile devices, or 95 percent of all marketed cell phones, according to CelleBrite’s Web site.
The purchase is part of requirements for the Multi-Jurisdiction Cyber Crime Grant, which provides federal money through the Missouri Department of Public Safety, according to the county purchase request.