Category Archives: POLICE

Secret police taskforce followed journalist: Inquiry targets bugging, whistleblowing and covers-ups

"Completely gobsmacked": Journalist Neil Mercer.

“Completely gobsmacked”: Journalist Neil Mercer. Photo: Daniel Munoz

As the state’s top police officer prepares to take the stand at a sensational police bugging inquiry next week, questions have emerged about his possible role in a shadowy taskforce set up with the intention of spying on a journalist.

On September 9, 2012, Fairfax reporter Neil Mercer published explosive details in The Sun-Herald about Strike Force Emblems, a long-buried internal police report into Operation Mascot, an anti-corruption surveillance exercise that controversially involved the secret bugging of more than 100 police officers and civilians on the back of suspect warrants and allegations.

It can now be revealed that nine days after the story was published, the force’s professional standards command launched Strike Force Jooriland to monitor the veteran reporter and hunt down the police whistleblower leaking critical information to him.

When NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione appears before the parliamentary committee on Wednesday, he is likely to be grilled on how the operation came to be approved.

Mercer had remained oblivious to Jooriland until last Friday when he appeared as a witness before the inquiry.

“I am completely gobsmacked,” he said on Saturday, adding: “You’re exposing allegations of serious wrongdoing and criminal offences. Their response is, let’s shoot the messenger and then screw the whistleblower.”

MEAA chief executive officer Paul Murphy also expressed alarm, stating: “The professionalism of a journalist and the ethical responsibility to protect confidential sources needs to be respected at all times, regardless of the type of inquiry.”

As Mercer was left to nervously dwell on the nature – and extent – of the surveillance, biggest questions surround the broader roles in the bugging affair played by Commissioner Scipione and NSW Deputy Police Commissioner Catherine Burn – who at one stage was an acting commander of the special crime and internal affairs unit (SCIA).

“We can’t comment on matters that are currently the subject of an investigation by the Ombudsman,” said a police spokesman when asked who had triggered the hunt.

On Friday, the inquiry heard explosive allegations about a mass cover-up that blanketed the police corruption investigation, Operation Mascot, which ran between 1999-2001.

Deputy Commissioner Nick Kaldas was a central target of the surveillance operation, which he testified had ruined the careers of many officers and triggered a suicide.

Ms Burn had been a senior officer within the operation which at one stage, was commanded by current Commissioner Scipione. The hearing heard that some affidavits presented to NSW Supreme Court judges had contained no information to justify surveillance, and some content was false. It emerged that during the operation, Ms Burn’s unit had secured a warrant to bug Mr Kaldas and his family – despite no evidence of any wrongdoing.

Against the wishes of the NSW government, the inquiry was established last year in response to complaints about the amount of time taken by NSW Ombudsman Bruce Barbour to investigate the scandal. On Friday, Mr Kaldas launched a scathing attack on Mr Barbour, about his treatment. “We, the police, could not treat criminals this way and neither should we,” he said.

Mercer had earlier published details of the secret Emblems report which showed Ms Burn had come under investigation, following a string of complaints relating to the investigation. While the report stated there was no evidence to bring criminal or disciplinary charges against her, it noted inquiries into those complaints had hit a wall after access to crucial documents and witnesses was repeatedly denied. It was also revealed that in November 2001, Commissioner Scipione, then commander of SCIA, had been warned some officers within the branch were concerned about the legality of the telephone taps and the release of “fictitious information” to gain listening devices. The inquiry resumes on Tuesday.

Henry Sapiecha

Top cop Nick Kaldas claims ‘massive wrongdoing’ and cover-up in police bugging of his children scandal

Subject of 'intense electronic and other surveillance': Police Deputy Commissioner Nick Kaldas, far right.

Deputy police commissioner Nick Kaldas has accused an internal affairs unit formerly run by two of NSW’s most senior officers – Commissioner Andrew Scipione and his deputy, Catherine Burn – of “massive wrongdoing and habitual illegal acts” in relation to a covert bugging operation more than a decade ago.

In a submission to a parliamentary inquiry examining the operation, codenamed Mascot, Mr Kaldas also sensationally claims illegal activities by the police Special Crime and Internal Affairs (SCIA) unit were “sanctioned and covered up” by the Police Integrity Commission.

Mr Kaldas was one of more than 100 police and civilians bugged by Operation Mascot between 1999-2001.

Mr Scipione was commander of SCIA  at the time, while Ms Burn was head of the team which ran Operation Mascot.

The operation exploded into controversy when it emerged at least one journalist and police not under suspicion of wrongdoing were among those whose names appeared on covert surveillance warrants issued by the Supreme Court.

An internal police operation, Strike Force Emblems, was launched into Operation Mascot in 2003. Its report has never been released, although details have been previously revealed by Fairfax Media.

In his submission Mr Kaldas says documents submitted to the committee show “a level of intense electronic and other surveillance [was] … carried out on every part of my life, home and work, including my ex-wife and children, and was clearly unjustified but in the end yielded not one allegation to be put to me at the end of the operation”.

The submission was published on Thursday morning, as the parliamentary inquiry began hearings into a two-year investigation by the NSW Ombudsman Bruce Barbour into Strike Force Emblems.

Mr Kaldas and Ms Burn are due to give evidence on Friday. Mr Scipione and Mr Barbour are scheduled to appear on Tuesday.

In her submission to the inquiry, Ms Burn strongly denied any wrongdoing.

Ms Burn denies she directed internal affairs police “to use illegal warrants to secretly record conversations of my rivals in the police force”, in particular Mr Kaldas, when she did not suspect him of wrongdoing.

Ms Burn also denied directing use of illegal warrants to bug Mr Kaldas “as part of a personal vendetta”.

The inquiry – which is opposed by the NSW government, was established in response to concerns about the time being taken for Mr Barbour to complete his investigations and the nature of his inquiries.

Earlier on Thursday, committee chairman Robert Borsak accused NSW attorney-general Brad Hazzard of seeking to “bribe” him into withdrawing from the inquiry, which the government opposes.

The inquiry heard from Channel Seven journalist Steve Barrett, whose name appeared on one of the bugging warrants.

Barrett said he was mystified as to why he appeared on the warrant but suggested that either Supreme Court judges had been “duped” or “no one checked”.


Henry Sapiecha

Opposition leader has supported the security agencies in their handling of the recent seige

bill shorten image

Shorten expresses confidence in security agencies


The Opposition Leader Bill Shorten joins the ABC program to discuss the implications of the Syndey siege for Australia’s national security system, and whether more could have been done to avert the situation.

Henry Sapiecha

Chinese ex-leader Zhou Yongkang charged with corruption

Former Politburo Standing Committee member Zhou Yongkang image

The former all-powerful head of China’s secret police, Zhou Yongkang, has been expelled from the ruling Communist party and accused of leaking state secrets, taking bribes and fornication, becoming the most senior official felled by President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption drive.

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The move, announced by China’s state-owned media on Friday, underscored President Xi’s willingness to press ahead with a purge of “tigers” and “flies” that has ensnared hundreds of thousands of officials, executives at state-owned firms and businessmen.

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It was the first time he has acted against a former member of China’s Politburo Standing Committee, which in effect rules China.

Mr Zhou was formally placed under investigation this summer. Sometimes referred to as the “Dick Cheney of China”, Mr Zhou was the most feared of China’s top leaders because of his position as head of the internal security services, the police and the courts, and his connections in the state-owned energy sector.

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A bona fide “tiger” with allies throughout the provinces, energy firms and security apparatus, Mr Zhou had backed a bid for power by Mr Xi’s rival, the charismatic populist Bo Xilai, another senior leader jailed for corruption.

“What Zhou Yongkang did entirely violated the party’s nature and purpose, severely violated the party line, and damaged the party image, causing great losses for the party and people. His influence is extremely odious,” the People’s Daily said in an editorial.

Although he has been under investigation since earlier this year, the fate of Mr Zhou had been uncertain amid tensions in the upper echelons of the party about a corruption drive that is seen as a way of consolidating President Xi’s power.

But Mr Zhou’s expulsion from the party — and accompanying charges of fornication as well as corruption — implies that remaining support for him has crumbled, perhaps under the onslaught of investigations into prominent military figures as well as provincial officials linked to powerful former leaders.

The FT earlier reported that former top leaders Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao had expressed discomfort with the extent of the purge.

Many party elders believe that Mr Xi has set a dangerous precedent by violating the taboo against investigating retired members of the Politburo Standing Committee, the most powerful body in China. A gentleman’s agreement that they could retire in peace has helped ensure relatively peaceful transitions of power in China in recent years.

Mr Zhou is accused of leaking “party and state secrets”, taking bribes directly or through his family, abusing his power to the benefit of his family, mistresses and friends and “fornication with many women”.

The procedural step means that Mr Zhou can now be tried in a criminal court. Communist party internal procedures take precedence over law in China.

The announcement was made in a co-ordinated release by all major state-controlled news portals at midnight on Friday. It came just after the country’s inaugural “Constitution Day”, honouring rule through legal means.

Additional reporting by Gu Yu

Henry Sapiecha

Long running police bugging scandal to become the subject of NSW parliamentary inquiry


Greens justice spokesman David Shoebridge image

The police bugging scandal that has plagued top levels of the NSW force for more than a decade will be examined by a NSW parliamentary inquiry with concerns the Ombudsman has taken too long to finalise his investigation.

The state government tasked the Ombudsman in October 2012 with inquiring into allegations surrounding illegal bugging by the NSW Police’s Special Crime and Internal Affairs and the NSW Crime Commission between 1999 and 2001 and the investigation that followed into it.

But after more than two years, the $3 million inquiry, dubbed Operation Prospect and held behind closed doors, has released no specific details.

Now, The Shooters and Fishers Party, with the support of Labor and The Greens, will establish an inquiry that will examine the bugging allegations, the subsequent police investigation into those allegations and the Ombudsman’s inquiry. It will report by February 2015

Shadow attorney-general Paul Lynch said Labor was in support of the inquiry because the original matters involving allegations of police bugging “were extremely serious”.

“It’s taken way too long to get to this stage,” he said. “These things will undoubtedly benefit from ventilation in public”.

The Greens justice spokesman David Shoebridge said the inquiry would remove the secrecy behind the police bugging scandal which has affected the most senior ranks of the NSW Police.


The current Commissioner, Andrew Scipione, and a current Deputy Commissioner, Catherine Burn, worked at SCIA at relevant times. One of the detectives SCIA was bugging was Nick Kaldas, now also a Deputy Commissioner.

“What we have is a secret police investigation that obtained secret warrants, that was then reviewed by a secret police investigation and is now being considered by a seemingly endless secret Ombudsman’s inquiry,” Mr Shoebridge said. “This secrecy must stop.”

Between 1999 and 2001, the  SCIA and the crime commission ran a covert investigation codenamed Operation Mascot into allegedly corrupt NSW police.

Central to Mascot was a serving NSW police officer, codenamed M5, who went to work for SCIA and the commission, wearing a wire to bug his colleagues, some of whom were undoubtedly corrupt. But many of those he sought to entrap were honest police.

Some listening device warrants obtained by SCIA and the commission contained more than 100 names, mainly of former and serving police.

In many cases, the affidavits presented to Supreme Court judges contained no information whatsoever that would justify the bugging, and Fairfax Media has established that some of the information in the affidavits was false.

Many police involved in the case believe numerous criminal offences have been committed by some officers of the SCIA and the commission.

Complaints by police, including some from within SCIA itself, were internally investigated by NSW police from Strike Force Emblems as far back as 2004. But inquiries were stymied by the secrecy provisions of the NSW Crime Commission, which refused to co-operate or hand over crucial documents.

Successive governments refused to release the Emblems reports – but they were obtained by Fairfax Media. The reports said “criminal conduct” and revenge might have been behind the mass bugging.

The first Emblems report found there may have been “criminal conduct” involved in the bugging of 100 serving and former police.

Even M5, the NSW police officer doing the undercover bugging, confessed that in some cases he was “settling old scores” and “assisting, nurturing corruption”.

Henry Sapiecha


MPs warned ‘ugly investigation’ could destroy reputations of senior NSW police

Crucify people's reputations. Former police minister Mike Gallacher image

“Crucify people’s reputations”: Former police minister Mike Gallacher. Photo: Jessica Hromas

NSW MPs have been warned they risk holding “an ugly investigation” that could destroy the reputation of some the state’s most senior police if they proceed with an upper house inquiry into the state Ombudsman’s probe of a police bugging scandal.

During a heated debate on a Shooters and Fishers Party motion which established the inquiry on Wednesday, former police minister Mike Gallacher spoke against its establishment, warning it would “focus in on the conduct of one or two senior police”.

Mr Gallacher – who resigned from cabinet in May after being named in evidence at a public corruption inquiry into political donations – said there would be “allegations and counter allegations, all of which will be played out in our media”.

Crucify people's reputations. Former police minister Mike Gallacher image

Potential negative consequences” of inquiry: Bruce Barbour. Photo: Dallas Kilponen

“I am for one very conscious of the impact that allegations can have on an individual, particularly when they’re played out in public,” he said.

Mr Gallacher accused those supporting the inquiry of being concerned about the direction of Mr Barbour’s report and said this was a “last-chance dance”. He said they wanted to “crucify people’s reputations”.

The debate followed an extraordinary bid by NSW Ombudsman Bruce Barbour to stop the inquiry into the conduct and progress of his investigation into the scandal.

The Ombudsman’s investigation, codenamed Operation Prospect, has already spent over two years examining allegations of illegal bugging by the NSW Police’s Special Crime and Internal Affairs (SCIA) and the NSW Crime Commission between 1999 and 2001 and the internal investigation that followed.

It is understood to have caused tensions at the top ranks of the NSW Police, with the current Commissioner Andrew Scipione and current Deputy Commissioner Catherine Burn working at SCIA at relevant times.

One of the detectives SCIA was bugging was Nick Kaldas, now also a deputy commissioner.

In a letter to Premier Mike Baird on Tuesday night, Mr Barbour expressed his concern about the “potential negative consequences” of an upper house inquiry.

Mr Barbour warned that having to co-operate with the inquiry would delay finalisation of his report, which he expected to complete in the first half of 2015.

Mr Barbour also noted the inquiry proposed to examine the use of secrecy powers by the Ombudsman’s office, which are “of central importance to the fair and rigorous conduct of Operation Prospect”.

But it is understood some current and former officers caught up in the scandal are concerned the inquiry has been held behind closed doors and focused primarily on who leaked information to the media about the scandal rather than investigating the bugging allegations themselves.

Greens MP David Shoebridge said there had been a “cloud hanging over the NSW Police Force” for more than a decade due to the bugging scandal and it was Parliament’s job to “shine a light when nobody else is prepared to do it”.

Henry Sapiecha

Semi-automatic weapons, ammo handled in mystery Brisbane military operation in preparation for the G20 summit


miliary personal handling semi auto weapons g20 brisbane summit  image

Semi-automatic weapons, ammo handled in mystery Brisbane military operation

BRISBANE CBD residents watched on in awe as a movie-like scene played out in front of their eyes as G20 preparations continued early this morning.

After seeing a large gathering of soldiers believed to have been armed with semi-automatic weapons, those enjoying a late Sunday night saw their purpose become apparent.

Around midnight, a convoy of vehicles carried soldiers a short distance to an underground car park at a building where their operation would soon come to life.

One inner-city road was partially blocked as a fleet of army vehicles rolled in.

Finally, about 12.45am, at least four speed boats were seen zipping along the Brisbane River before unloading crews.

Tactical Assault Group East conducts a training exercise early Monday morning at Stamford Plaza, Brisbane ahead of the G20 Leaders' Summit.image

Tactical Assault Group East conducts a training exercise early Monday morning at Stamford Plaza, Brisbane ahead of the G20 Leaders’ Summit. Photo by Sarah Keayes

At the same time, four Black Hawk choppers hovered ominously around buildings – coming within metres of some – in what appeared to be a simultaneous “attack”.

Dozens of soldiers appeared, aided by what was believed to be night vision and gas masks.

Moments earlier, loud bangs and shoutings of “get down” had been heard inside one of the nearby buildings.

After approximately half an hour, the “intruders’’ were seen being taken to a central point in the building in what seemed to be arrested-like fashion.

A chopper hovers just metres from the buildings G20 summit Brisbane image

A chopper hovers just metres from the buildings. Photo Adam Armstrong.

Tactical assault personnel on the Brisbane River during the late-night exercise. Photo by Sarah Keayes

For several hours, a large number of military dressed personnel — estimated to be about 50 — descended on an inner-city commercial carpark in what is believed to be a G20 training operation.

In plain sight of pedestrians, the personnel handled what appeared to be semi-automatic weapons, ammunition, helmets and large equipment containers.

The group were dressed in olive-coloured military style clothing with no apparent badges identifying themselves or their agency.

Some appeared to be wearing body armour.

Personnel on scene refused to provide any details of the operation or the agencies involved when asked by The Courier-Mail.

For a short period of time, a single police car was also seen parked out the front of the carpark where the operation was taking place.


When contacted by The Courier-Mail on Sunday night, spokespeople for the Australian Federal Police, Queensland Police Service and Defence Public Affairs all denied any knowledge of the operation.

The Royal Australian Air Force announced on Sunday they would conduct G20 security preparations from November 3 to 13 but not on weekends.

The RAAF said operations would involve “fighter, surveillance and support aircraft, alongside the Army Black Hawk helicopters”.


Henry Sapiecha

G20 security: Concern foreign spy services will get access to photos of Brisbane residents

The Queensland Council for Civil Liberties (QCCL) has raised concerns about foreign spy services like the KGB being given photographs of Brisbane citizens during next month’s G20 summit.

police surveilance via monitors 7 phones image www.intelagencies (1)

Security will be formidable during the Brisbane event, with thousands of police officers on duty.

Leaders from the world’s major powers will be visiting Queensland’s capital for the G20 in November.

Security will be formidable during the event and the thousands of police officers on duty will have the power to exclude people from a large area of Brisbane and take their photograph to share with all police on duty.

QCCL spokesman Terry O’Gorman said by law the photos would go to ASIO and the Immigration Department – and possibly foreign intelligence services from countries including Russia and China.

“[Russian president Vladimir] Putin is one of the most unattractive world leaders, as is the Chinese premier because they both lead countries that have appalling human rights records,” he said.

“The fact that the Chinese government and the Russian government would get my exclusion notice and my photograph doesn’t sit very easily with me at all and I don’t think it should sit easily with any Brisbane citizen.”

He said it was not known what authorities would do with the information and photographs in the future.

“We don’t we know what they’re going to do with it months and years from now,” he said.

“It’s bad enough that exclusion notices are given to ASIO and the immigration department.

“But to have a Brisbane citizen’s photograph given to the KGB? To be given to the Chinese Secret Service? These are the most totalitarian countries in the world.”

Queensland Government MP Lawrence Springborg said the G20 legislation was introduced to protect the community.

david-cameron-promo-gif-data image

It will be illegal for people to carry certain household objects such as eggs and glass jars in central Brisbane without a “lawful excuse”. Here are 17 of the prohibited items – in GIFs.

“When we have the most powerful people in the world coming not only to our shores, but to our very fine city, we have to make sure that people are safe and the community is safe,” he said.

“As an individual, I accept that, and most individuals do accept that.”

South Bank cafe manager Sophia Tsiros said she was concerned that protests could turn violent but she was confident police would be able to manage the situation.

“You’re running a business and you want to make sure everyone’s having a good experience when they come dine with you,” she said.

“The police have spoken to us and they seem to be putting quite a few police on the ground so I’m glad to hear that, but there is still a bit of concern in the back of your mind – ‘Could something erupt?'”

Meanwhile, the Insurance Council of Australia (ICA) said the majority of insurance companies would cover residents and businesses for vandalism if their properties were damaged during protests.

An ICA spokesman said it would be highly unlikely for claims to be rejected under “civil unrest”.

Henry Sapiecha

Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC) raids home of ex-detective Mick Featherstone who has alleged links to gambling scams

Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC) raids home of ex-detective Mick Featherstone who has alleged links to gambling scams image

Investigators have raided the home of a former Queensland police detective alleged to have been involved in gambling scams worth millions of dollars.

The ABC’s 7:30 revealed last month that Mick Featherstone, a former Gold Coast detective turned private investigator, is being investigated by Queensland’s Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC) as part of a major probe into a network of Gold Coast-based sports betting syndicates.

The program detailed evidence obtained by the ABC showing Mr Featherstone’s close involvement in the setting up and running of online gambling companies alleged to have defrauded people across Australia of millions of dollars.

Officers from the CCC have since raided the Upper Coomera home of Mr Featherstone and his wife Zoei, removing phones and computer equipment.

Similar action was taken at the home of Mr Featherstone’s son Zach, who works for Phoenix Global, Mr Featherstone’s Southport-based private investigation company.

Henry Sapiecha

iPhone encryption won’t stop police getting your data, experts say

Apple may not be able to access your data, but that doesn't mean it's secure, experts say.image

Apple may not be able to access your data, but that doesn’t mean it’s secure, experts say. Photo: Mashable / Getty Images

This post was originally published on Mashable.

Last week, Apple announced that starting with iOS 8, the company would no longer help police get some of the most sensitive data on your phone, including messages, emails, contacts and call history.

And it’s not that it doesn’t want to anymore, it’s that now Apple says it can no longer do it — even if it wanted to.

“Apple cannot bypass your passcode and therefore cannot access this data,” the company said in its new privacy policy.

Many, including privacy advocates, rejoiced at the news — but some police officers are not that happy. And although there are still other ways cops can get their hands on your iPhone data, authorities are still complaining.

“It’s definitely going to impact investigations, there’s no doubt about that,” Dennis Dragos, a former New York Police Department detective who worked for 11 years in the computer crimes squad, told Mashable.

“Detectives are trained to follow down every single lead, follow every possible trail until you get to the resolution of your investigation,” he continued.

“This is now a dead end. You’re closing a door that was available before.”

Dragos is not the only one who thinks that way.

On Thursday, FBI Director James Comey himself said that he was “very concerned” about Apple’s decision.

John Escalante, the chief of detectives for Chicago’s police department, said that because of this change, “Apple will become the phone of choice for the paedophile.”

For some law enforcement officials, this could even become a matter of life and death. In a Washington Post op-ed, Ronald T. Hosko, the former assistant director at the FBI Criminal Investigative Division, complained that Apple’s new privacy stance, later followed by Android, will “protect many thousands of criminals who seek to do us great harm, physically or financially.”

“[Criminals’] phones contain contacts, texts, and geo-tagged data that can help police track down accomplices,” Hosko wrote. “These new rules will make it impossible for us to access that information. They will create needless delays that could cost victims their lives.”

But privacy advocates and security researchers are sceptical.

“I think there’s a lot of kicking and screaming over this but cops have been able to do their job just fine for the past 200 years in this country, without having access to people’s personal iPhone,” Jonathan Zdiarski, a forensic and security researcher who has worked as a consultant to police agencies, told Mashable. “Criminals are just as stupid today as they always have been and they’re going to leave traces and evidence in a number of places.”

Moreover, despite all the controversy, there are actually still a few ways for the police to get at least some data from an iPhone with iOS 8 and protected by a passcode. Below, we’ve broken down some of the ways cops can still put their hands on your digital belongings.

Getting your iCloud backup

If police officers can’t get the data that’s locally stored on an iPhone, they might still be able to get it from the cloud.

Apple prompts users to back up their iDevices to iCloud, and the data there can be obtained by law enforcement agents with a search warrant. Yes, iCloud backups are encrypted, but they’re encrypted with a key in Apple’s possession, so Apple can be legally required to turn the backups over if served with a valid legal request, as Micah LeeFirst Look‘s technologist and security expert, explained.

With iCloud, police can potentially get any data from your phone, unless you turn off the automatic backup, or you only backup certain data.

Using forensic tools

Forensic tools are still a great way to get some data out of your iPhone. If the police arrests you and gets both your phone and a computer that you used to connect with your phone using iTunes — a “paired device” — they can dump some data out of it bypassing your passcode using existing forensic tools, as Zdiarski noted in a recent blog post.

In this case, the passcode doesn’t protect you, because Apple has designed this system to allow you to access some data on your phone using iTunes or Xcode without unlocking your device.

The caveat here is that only some data is available in this scenario. In particular, any data from third party applications such as Facebook, Twitter and Evernote; photos, videos and recordings; and iTunes media such as books and podcasts. But data from native iOS applications like iMessages, emails or calls is out of reach.

To prevent this from happening, as Zdiarski notes, then you can “pair lock” your iPhone so that it doesn’t pair with any new computer, preventing police computers from “pairing” with your iPhone.

Without the ability to impersonate a trusted computer, and with a locked phone protected with the passcode, “law enforcement at this point doesn’t seem to really have any options,” Zdiarski said.

Getting your iTunes backup

Another target for police officers is the iTunes backup on your computer. If you back up your iPhone to your computer with iTunes, a police officer that gets his hands on your computer can get all the data that you have last backed up.

“Data is still available, as long as iTunes and iCloud reign,” Lee Reiber, the vice president for mobile solutions at forensic firm AccessData, told Mashable.

In this scenario, only a backup password can stop the police, and in that case, it better be a good password or it might be vulnerable to brute forcing — the automated process of guessing all possible passwords until you get the right one. Or, they might just force you to give it up.

Forcing you to give up your passcode

Having a passcode protect your phone is great — unless someone else knows that passcode. And here’s a legal caveat many might not be aware of: the police might be able to compel you to give up your passcode, which renders any sophisticated technological protections you might have on your phone completely moot.

The case law on this issue is still contradictory, and it has only dealt with computers (though it’s hard to see the difference between an encrypted computer and an encrypted phone).

But in some cases someone who refuses to give up her password can be held in contempt of court, which can even lead to jail, as reported by Wired.

In the US, a defendant can plead the fifth and refuse to testify against himself and self-incriminate. Some think that handing out a password to authorities amounts to self-incrimination and should not be accepted, but others disagree.

Breaking TouchID

Where there seems to be more consensus that “pleading the Fifth” won’t get you anywhere is if the cops ask for your fingerprint.

Fingerprints, and other physical objects like actual keys, have traditionally not been considered protected by the Fifth Amendment. So if you lock your iPhone with TouchID, the cops can legally compel you to unlock it, as internet and privacy lawyer Marcia Hoffman explained last year.

And if you refuse, police officers might be able to lift your fingerprint from a surface — say your computer screen — and unlock it themselves.

As various online videos have shown, it’s possible to break into an iPhone 6 with a dummy fingerprint just as it was with the 5S.

Other options

Outside of these scenarios, options for law enforcement, at this point, are limited. A good old brute force attack, where you guess every possible passcode combination is technically possible, but there are no forensic tools that can make this automated, both Zdiarski and Reiber said.

Technically, Apple could brute force a four digit passcode if the police asked the company to do it, but it seems unlikely that Apple would do something like that after trumpeting that they wouldn’t help police unlock phones anymore.

Doing it manually is obviously a daunting task, as there are 10,000 combinations of 4 digit passcodes, and iPhones disable after six wrong attempts.

And if police are simply looking for call records, they can always request them from phone carriers, or perhaps plant malware on your phone.

As for the iPhone, it might be harder now, but forensic firms and law enforcement hackers will now look for new places and holes to get data.

“As secure as the device can be, there’s always going to be some vulnerability that can be located and exploited,” Reiber said. “That’s what it really is, cat and mouse.”

1…’Poor law enforcement. They’re going to have to make do with their ability to covertly track you, wiretap you and hack into your computer.’

2…’With iOS 8, Apple won’t be able to unlock iPhones and iPads for law enforcement 

3…’If smartphone encryption prevents the police from solving crimes, how did they solve them before smartphones were invented? Anyone remember?’