February 26th, 2015

Do we have information privacy at the era of smartphone?”

By: Ying Zhang, L.L.M


In Riley v. California, the Supreme Court found that “Cell phones differ in both a quantitative and a qualitative sense from other objects that might be kept on an arrestee’s person.” The Supreme Court pointed out that one of the most distinguishing features of modern cell phone is their immense storage capacity; the storage capacity of cell phones has several interrelated consequences for privacy. Further, the Supreme Courts believed that the data stored on a cell phone is not only distinguished from physical records by quantity, certain types of data are also qualitative different. For example, an Internet search and browsing history could reveal an individual’s private interest or concerns; historic location information can reconstruct someone’s specific movement; mobile application software on a cell phone offers a range of tools for managing detailed information about all aspects of a person’s life. The Supreme Court held that “a cell phone search would typically expose to the government far more than the most exhaustive search of a house…”. Based on the above, among others, the Supreme Court finally determined that the police must get a warrant before searching a cell phone seized incident to an arrest.

In the above ruling, the Supreme Court recognizes that the decision will bring an impact on the ability of law enforcement to combat crime, but why does the Supreme Court still make the ruling? Is the Supreme Court proactive in its ruling or did the Court exaggerate the influence of cell p hone on our daily life? Let’s see a related data in relation cell phone from China.

The linked article below is about a transcript of the interview with Jun LEI by Russell Flannery of Forbes Shanghai. Jun LEI is a founder and the CEO of the biggest Chinese cell phone manufacturer XIAO MI. LEI was recently crowned as Forbes’ Business Man of The Year in Asia. In accordance with the interview, we may conclude that the Supreme Court does not overstate impact of cell phone to our life; moreover, our information privacy is highly threatened by the data that we believe are stored in our cell phone even if we hold our cell phone with us 24 hours a day.

  1. A cell phone itself does not only store large quantity of information, since a cell phone now is able to connect to Internet any time and places, a cell phone may store more and more information on various types of “big data cloud services” from time to time. LEI mentioned that only the cell phones that are manufactured and sold by XIAO MI will uploads 380 Terabytes content to the cloud storage that is provided by XIAO MI. One Terabytes equals 1024 Gigabytes; if data of 380 Terabytes is all about pictures in cellphone phones, this implies that users of XIAO MI cell phones uploads over 0.1 billion pieces of pictures every day.
  2. In addition to the quantity of the information that is stored in a cell phone, XIAO MI cell phones are also connected with TC, Box, wearable devices, router, and smart home devices; this decides a cell phone can collect and store various types of information. Therefore, through the cell phones it sold, XIAO MI acquires massive data not only phone numbers and communication log, but also other valuable and sensitive information, such as health records.


  1. Cell phone service providers and cloud storage service providers plan to make profits upon acquiring and controlling these data. LEI predicted that XIAO MI will have more than 1000 Petabytes of data after year 2015 which will need more servers, machines, IDCs, bandwidth. In accordance with LEI, 1 Petabyte storage services (1 Petabyte amounts to 1000 Terabytes) requires cost of RMB 3 million; 1000 Petabytes will cost XIAO MI around RMB 3 billion. Once cell phone users store their data, for free, on the cloud storages that are provided by XIAO MI at its own expenses, XIAO MI will ask every user’s permit to read very the user’s data. Once a user permits, XIAO MI can use machines to read and analyze the data and make many commercial decisions. For example, XIAO MI may determine whether it can give a user a loan. If the data reveals that a user has a stable income, pay your credit card debts on time, never goes out of New York city, then XIAO MI might decide to hire the user and lend the user one hundred thousand RMB without “fear” that the user will leave, because XIAO MI owns all data of the user.

After all, LEI believes that mobile networking is still in its explosive growth phase and will continue for 5 to10 years. Smartphones will be the center of the world. Everything is within our control via a smart phone, house’s air, water quality, and safety; this also means that others can use our smart phone to do so too