Law change makes it easier to recover stolen phones

Victim of smartphone theft describes a 'Keystone Cops' experience in recovering stolen device

Under the Search and Surveillance Act 2012, a constable can enter premises or a vehicle without a warrant if he or she believes evidential material relating to an offence for which a person is to be arrested will be destroyed, concealed, altered or damaged.

A Wellington IT consultant raised the matter with Computerworld in a discussion about the theft of cellphones. He had recently been a theft victim in circumstances which would have been worthy of the Keystone Cops.

During subsequent discussions with the police, he was told of the changes to the legislation. Previously, there had been a case where a constable responding to a call in Christchurch when a phone was stolen had not been able to enter the building to which it was tracked because he didn’t have a search warrant. That will no longer be the case.

The IT consultant had left his phone in a supermarket. When he returned there, it had gone, so he rang a friend who was able to track the iPhone using the Find My iPhone application.

During the effort to track it down, it moved to four different locations. The first was a church, some miles from the supermarket. The pastor knew nothing about it but the application tracked it to several places moving around the premises.

Eventually, two youngsters were found at the back of a hall with, apparently, several cell phones. They denied having the consultant’s phone so his wife, who was following matters on an iPad, called the police.

They duly arrived but by then the phone had apparently been passed to someone in a vehicle.

“We got in the cop car and headed down the motorway with red lights flashing,” the consultant says. “Then my friend notified us to do a u-turn. We found the phone, and my credit card, in a gutter by the motorway. Apparently, whoever was driving the car also got the text message about where it was heading, and threw the phone out of the window.”

It took one more day before the consultant was able to claim his phone because the police had found a very identifiable finger print on it.

It’s a lesson for anyone with an iPhone or similar to make sure the tracking application is enabled.

As the consultant said: “It’s not the cost of the phone but the loss of probably 1200 contact numbers that hurts (he had backed them up).

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