Connecticut Court Case Highlights the Security and Privacy of the Zello Walkie-Talkie App for Cell Phones

I have written about Zello several times. See https://duckduckgo.com/?q=site%3Aprivacyblog.com+zello&t=h_&ia=web for a list of my past articles about this very useful and very private cell phone app. Now it seems that a court in Connecticut has learned how private the app really is.

Various laws require police officers to turn over their personal phone records, if subpoenaed and if the phones were used for official police business. New London police officers Todd Lynch, Jeremy Zelinski, Joseph Pelchat and Ryan Griffin used their personal cell phones during a narcotics investigation and, with the help of the communications provided by Zello, were able to arrest the career criminal who is believed to be a drug dealer.

The officers brought their phones to Superior Court on Friday to show to Judge Hunchu Kwak, if necessary. The issues of the case had created some publicity earlier so Connecticut State’s Attorney Michael L. Regan also attended the hearing to learn first-hand about the issues.

It seems the four police officers didn’t even know the name of the app they had been using. (It was soon determined to be Zello.) The judge and others in the courtroom soon learned that Zello leaves no traces of conversations. The fact that a Zello conversation even occurred is not recorded in the cell phone’s logs, unlike normal telephone calls. Without any record of the conversations, it is impossible to determine who participated in the conversations, what time the communications occurred, or any other revealing information.

Meanwhile, the man arrested for drug trafficking is being held in prison while his case is pending and has served all of the officers with handwritten lawsuits alleging they violated his civil rights. The city’s insurance carrier has been notified and is assigning attorneys to respond to the cases.

Details may be found in an article by Karen Florin in TheDay web site at: http://bit.ly/2RnzboN.

There are at least four lessons to be learned from this case:

1. The Zello app doesn’t leave “tracks” of when it was used or what it accomplished.

2. The laws in Connecticut and probably elsewhere do not explicitly allow or prohibit the use of Zello or other privacy-enabled methods of communications.

3. The law has not kept up with today’s technology. (That’s nothing new.)

4. If you want to have private communications that cannot be tracked or monitored by law enforcement officials or by the courts, use Zello until the laws are changed, if ever.

P.S. Zello also has thwarted the efforts of the Russian government to spy on its citizens. Russia has even tried to block the app but with limited success. For details, see my earlier article at https://privacyblog.com/2018/04/04/the-russian-government-wants-to-block-zello-but-can-it-really-do-that/.

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