Self-Defense Tip: Don’t Use Geico’s Digital Insurance ID Card

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xJrgcmqbuhQ TTAG reader Robert Bubb writes: I recently saw this Geico ad featuring the pig using his phone’s Geico App to show a police officer his digital vehicle insurance card during a stop for a broken tail-light. The handful of times I’ve been stopped the officer has taken my ID and insurance card back to his or her cruiser to enter the info into their computer. What has me concerned about using this app (or similar apps by other insurance companies): by handing your phone to a police officer you’ve essentially given him or her permission to search your phone . . .

Chances are that many TTAG readers, like me, have recorded video of themselves and their shooting buddies on their smartphones. In an anti-2nd Amendment state you’d essentially be handing the officer probable cause to search you and your vehicle for your firearms. Now I’m sure that these apps are fine for their other features, but it isn’t worth adding additional hassle to a traffic stop. Obey all traffic laws and keep your vehicle in proper working condition to avoid being stopped, but if you do get stopped, stick to the paper proof of insurance cards.

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About Robert Farago

Robert Farago is the Publisher of The Truth About Guns (TTAG). He started the site to explore the ethics, morality, business, politics, culture, technology, practice, strategy, dangers and fun of guns.

66 Responses to Self-Defense Tip: Don’t Use Geico’s Digital Insurance ID Card

  1. avatarmlopilato says:

    Also, your phone should already be otherwise occupied, recording the interaction. Unless you’re lucky enough to have a secondary recording device.

    • avatarAlphaGeek says:

      In all seriousness, I’ve been wondering where to get one of those dash-cams that all the Russians use. Sure would be handy.

      • avatarJTPhilly says:

        Go Pro, my friend. Most versatile little camera on the market right now. Can mount it to your dash, your AR, your head, just about anywhere.

        • avatarAlphaGeek says:

          I love me some GoPros, but they’re just too attractive to thieves. They’re also not optimized for the in-car-video use case — I want something that records continuously starting when it gets 12VDC, and shuts down gracefully when the car turns off.

        • avatarPhydeaux says:

          Go Pro is too expensive for me – $200. Also too big (although I’m sure you get better image quality with that size).

          I like the Veho Muvi that’s much smaller and currently only about $50 on Amazon. You can get a windshield mount for dash cam configuration, and also clip it to your clothing to record “social interactions.”

      • avatarscottlac says:

        Here is a dedicated dashcam that does what a dashcam should.

        http://store.komando.com/p-1568-the-komando-dash-cam.aspx

        • avatarAlphaGeek says:

          Thanks! Yep, that’s what I’m talking about. Also useful for when my oldest offspring starts driving in a few years…

      • avatar16V says:

        According to my ex-pat friends, they are either just an app for your smart phone (records lowish frame rate and res) or just one of the millions of almost impossibly cheap Chicom cameras.

        Like a Flip or whatnot. Add a suction cup mount, and voila!

        I’d bet there’s something at Fry’s Fremont or Palo for $50.

    • avatar16V says:

      FWIW, the biggest limitation to a visible recording device of any type is it being visible.

      If you are dealing with a copper who is doing something dirty, I guarantee he ain’t gonna let you keep pointing that iPhone at him. (Yes, there’s a coupla apps that upload to the cloud. Do you really trust uploading that much?)

      Regardless, time and again police have seized recording devices when found, regardless of state laws reminding cops that they operate in public and since we get no expectation of privacy in public, neither do they. We know this only because they aren’t always smart enough to destroy the evidence completely.

      Mini cams and recording devices are so cheap that there is really no reason to advertise you’re recording what’s going on. It almost always raises the potential violence level.

    • avatarAngie says:

      You can’t search a phone simply because you hand it over. You would have to give consent or the officer have a search warrant !!! Know the facts before your publish an article !!!

  2. avatarWilliam says:

    Many people would not think twice – or even ONCE – before giving their phone to the information-harvesting officer.

    THAT HOBBIT AD IS DRIVING ME CRAZY. It might even drive me away.

  3. avatarAlphaGeek says:

    Actually, there’s a way to do this safely, if your electronic insurance card is laid out the right way. Make the image of your insurance card the “lock screen” image on your device, and ensure that you have a passcode set so that anyone handling the phone can see the insurance card but nothing else.

    I actually used this once, when my wife forgot (for like 2 months straight) to put the latest insurance cards in my vehicle. Got pulled over, realized my insurance cards were expired, and asked the nice officer to wait a moment while I brought up the electronic version. Opened the PDF my insurance co had emailed me, took a quick screen shot (hold power and press the round home button on iOS) and made it my lock-screen wallpaper. Locked the phone, handed it to the cop, good to go.

    • avatarTheSleeperHasAwakened says:

      The police still have a device they can plug into your phone to rip everything stored on it.

      The best advice is to just not hand over your phone to a cop unless they have a signed warrant.

    • avatarJoke & Dagger says:

      Only the most naive among us would hand a police officer our phone, regardless of lock status or contents. Period.

  4. avatar16V says:

    Police have been extracting data from cell phones for years. The only thing new(ish) is that the tech to extract your data gets better and more ubiquitous every year, not to mention more and more back doors are built into cell phones.

    In other words, if they are close enough to bluetooth, your data can be dumped without them eve touching your phone. Here’s a quickie overview….

    http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2011/04/michigan-state-police-we-only-grab-your-cellphone-data-with-a-warrant/

    Still think they need a warrant? Sorry, wrong century….

    http://news.cnet.com/8301-1023_3-57388786-93/court-warrantless-cell-phone-searches-legal/

    • avatarBrian S says:

      yep, I consider them more or less wide open to hacking. I don’t do any bank account, shopping or other sensitive info with the phone, and I wouldn’t want electronic ID’s either.

      I also put a small piece of electrical tape over the forward facing camera, wish I could do something similar for the microphones, but it would be a hassle anytime a call came in.

    • avatarNathanredbeard says:

      To avoid the bluetooth issue, make sure your phone is not discoverable. That allows you to initiate bluetooth contact with your devices, but prevents someone from accessing your info without your knowledge.

  5. The law requires to have proof of insurance, on paper. The phone doesn’t count. If you don’t have the paper they are able to give you a ticket. The same goes for registration. It’s really stupid since all that information comes up on their computer. They know everything on those cards, it’s just a check to see if you have them to get you on something.

    • avatarBrad says:

      Huh? Maybe it’s been a while and technology’s changed but when I was a cop, we had to call the verification number on the card if we suspected it was not valid. You had to provide proof of insurance to the DMV but police officers would not get that info from NCIC.

      I disagree with this post. Searching thorugh your phone consitutes an unlawful search. I’d think a decent lawyer would be able to quash anything found on there (and you’re a fool if you keep sensitive info on a device that can get lost or stolen as easily as a phone) if a cop decided to browse your phone without RS or PC.

      Now he can confiscate it if he suspects something and get a search warrant. But browsing your phone and hoping to find Jimmy, your “Weed” guy is unlikely unless there’s more to the situation. And then, as mention, he’s better off getting a search warrant to make sure the evidence does not get tossed. In my experience, a judge will toss anything remotely tainted rather than risk an appeal.

      • avatar16V says:

        Varies by state. In many, insurance cos are required to update DMV/DoR/whatever your licensing authority anytime someone’s insurance lapses.

        This data goes to a database and is correlated to your lic plate. Run the plate, know if vehicle is insured.

        To get even a step lazier, these databases can be dumped into the pile of wants and warrants. So, if your patrol vehicle is so equipped, you can sit on the side of the road and let the LPR read its 1000-5000 plates per minute.

        If the car is reg’d to someone who has anything to be wanted for and drives by, you get an alert on the computer. Just like no insurance. It also picks up expired plates.

        • avatarBrad says:

          I’ve seen the LPR readers work. Not sure i agree with the trolling for warrants and suspended plates idea but that’s technology.

      • avatarThe Stig says:

        “I’d think a decent lawyer would be able to quash anything found on there (and you’re a fool if you keep sensitive info on a device that can get lost or stolen as easily as a phone) if a cop decided to browse your phone without RS or PC.”

        In my experience, the flip-side is often true, however. Once something illegal is identified, many good prosecutors have ways of getting that evidence admitted. The safest bet is not to hope your defense lawyer can keep something out, but to not let it become known in the first place.

        • avatarBrad says:

          Whut?

          “Once something illegal is identified, many good prosecutors have ways of getting that evidence admitted.”

          Um, that’s illegal. Too.

          Law Enforcement: you’re doing it wrong.

  6. avatarAharon says:

    It is even safer to lock your cell phone closed with a password that only you know. Depending on the situation and state, the police might simply demand or take away your cell phone. If the phone is secured with a password that is an entire higher level of legal approval they would have to get to ask a police technician to by pass your security.

    • avatarAlphaGeek says:

      Seemingly obvious corollary, but some people need to be reminded:
      Don’t unlock the phone in the presence of a law enforcement officer or other agent of the justice system while you are a person of interest.

    • avatar16V says:

      On an obscure or older phone, they may slow the copper down for about 5 minutes. On most newer phones, there are back doors and the data extractors can get at anything anyway.

      The only thing that is possibly secure is encrypted data. There are apps out there that will encrypt your data and make it very difficult to access. Naturally, every gov agency we have is trying to install backdoors in those too.

      http://www.cellebrite.com/images/stories/support%20files/Apple_iPhone_Passcode_Bypass_instructions.pdf

      • avatarAlphaGeek says:

        There’s forensic bypass (in the lab, with a full set of tech gear) and then there’s in-the-field bypass.

        I fully expect that a forensic tech could, eventually, brain-suck all of my mobile devices. I’m fully capable of doing so myself as I work in the mobile industry, so I assume the “opposition” likely has equivalent capabilities.

        On the other hand, if a LEO can figure out how to crack my phone by the roadside without a full set of forensic tech gear, either I’ve done something horribly wrong with my device security arrangements or he’s a supergenius with a badge.

        Let’s keep it in perspective. If my phone is in the hands of a forensic tech, then I’m under arrest and being detained somewhere, and therefore pictures or videos of shooting sports activities are the least of my concerns.

        • avatar16V says:

          People who object to having their phones searched in the field have had them confiscated. No arrest nor warrant required. They’ve been doing that for years.

        • avatarAlphaGeek says:

          If my phone is confiscated and I’m not under arrest, it’s going to be remotely wiped according to corporate policy for devices no longer under our control. Because my devices are pretty much continuously backed up, no data will be lost, so doing so isn’t destroying evidence.

          If law enforcement wants something from one of my devices, they can subpoena my backups.

    • avatarPhydeaux says:

      Yes. If you have any expectation of privacy regarding your phone, you must engage the lock screen as proof of that expectation. Otherwise, LEOs can take your phone and look at anything they want.

      Of course, if they seize your phone a lock screen won’t keep them out, but can still use that as an expression of your expectation of privacy in any further legal tussles.

  7. avatarTTACer says:

    If you have nothing to hide…

  8. avatarTex74 says:

    A picture of a gun or you holding a gun is not probable cause to search a vehicle nor is it reasonable suspicion to frisk you for weapons unless the picture depicts you doing something specifically illegal. This site is going from a great gun forum to tin hat wearing, the gestapo cops are coming crap. I’m out.

    • avatarRalph says:

      We didn’t know you were here.

    • avatarSpoons Make You Fat says:

      This site is going from a great gun forum to tin hat wearing…

      You’re probably right, just paranoia. It’s over the top. I mean who would even propose gun bans and magazine limits? Of course it’s much easier to think this way when you only talk with LEOs by choice.

  9. avatarPantera Vazquez says:

    Well I can’t speak for other states’ regulations, yet in Florida-if pulled over while armed, and the officer is not advised=bad day for you CWP or not. My nephew was in the backseat of his buddy’s car when they were pulled over. When the P.O. asked the driver about guns no one spoke, officer asked all to get out of vehicle, frisked them and yup my sister’s kid had his 40 on him. Needless to say he had a rotten day, his CWP notwithstanding. My point is, the point you are stopped, they own you wether they have incriminating evidence on a phone or not. Think not? Have a cop ask to search your vehicle and then have the temerity to say NO. Think he is just going to let you go on your way? That being stated if you use your phone to carry your insurance info-do it as a screen lock-never hand your unlocked phone to ANYONE you don’t trust.

  10. avatarMatt in FL says:

    I have my State Farm app on my phone, but it’s no substitute for the paper card. I’d never think of handing my phone to a cop.

  11. avatarAccur81 says:

    I don’t search cell phones without a warrant, and I’d rather not handle or listen to a random cell phone (for translation or whatnot) because they tend to be slicked up with ear grease. I like to keep my ears and eyes clean, and ill plead the 5th about my mind. If someone is showing me photos of evidentiary value, I’ll look at them, but I agree that handing your phone to someone is stupid.

    If you are in a crash, taking snapshots of the DL, insurance, and registration of the other party is a good idea, as well as the scene and crash damage. You also want to be sure that the other driver(s) does not steal your cell phone and carjack you, hit and run, etc. Truth be told, if you are involved in a hit and run and the other driver is completely broke, your almost better off not tracking them down.

    It’s much better to be rear – ended by the wealthy Asian than the unregistered, unlicensed, uninsured illegal. I know that sounds like stereotyping, but it happens. A lot. When I drive my personal car, I do my best to avoid being follow by unrestored classics cars (AKA “shitboxes”) for just that reason.

    I’ve got no problem with people recording me, as I’m already recording myself. I just won’t allow someone to stick a phone up directly in my face. You don’t have to be a celebrity to be annoyed by that.

    • avatarBrad says:

      To further your comment A81, I refuse to handle a device than someone can claim later that I broke. Any cop that handles items like that will get sued eventually. It’d be my luck the guy would show up at the PD an hour leter with a cracked screen and say I did it.

    • avatarAlphaGeek says:

      Got rear-ended by an uninsured driver a couple of years back. White guy, surprisingly enough, the sort of drifter who gets by doing welding/grinding/etc work for cash at random shops.

      He volunteered $80 in cash, apparently all he had on him, to pay for the damage. Since the damage mainly consisted of a broken taillight and a small ding in my steel bumper, I decided it wasn’t worth pursuing further and accepted his offer.

      To your point, A81, that’s waaaay less trouble than getting involved in the whole uninsured-motorist thing. Sure, I have a little crease on the body panel where the taillight mounts, but compared to dealing with UM issues…

      • avatarAccur81 says:

        If its any consolation, I’ve been in 15 crashes – mostly as a passenger. My spine doesn’t look or feel so hot, so I don’t have an over-abundance of sympathy for drivers who fall apart at the scene of a fender bender. Crashes and lawsuits aren’t a whole lot of fun. Glad you at least got $80 out of it.

        • avatarAlphaGeek says:

          Note to self: separate vehicles when hanging out with A81. Having him as a passenger seems… risky. :)

    • avatar16V says:

      This is one of those ones that varies widely by jurisdiction – aka, which departments have purchased downloaders, and are now trying to see ROI from them by using them for fishing expeditions.

      Most guys I know are just like you, no warrant – no want to touch. But between ‘performance based policing’ and the financial benefits of asset confiscation and forfeiture, it’s a target many can’t resist.

  12. avatarJohn says:

    Im sorry but hate to break it to all the paranoids. As a Law Enforcement Officer with 15 years on the force in one of the most violent cities in America, I dont know what you guys are talking about. If you show me something on your phone, Im gonna look at that one thing. If you show me some e-insurance thing, I will probably still give you a ticket as you are supposed to provide me with an insurance CARD, not some electronic version. Im not going to go digging thru some persons phone on a traffic stop just for the hell of it. Thats a great way to get a complaint.

    • avatarSpoons Make You Fat says:

      I’ll need to check the statutes in my state as to whether a “paper” card is necessary — as opposed to the pixilated version. When asked for your phone there’s a lot to be said for the standard “Am I under arrest? Am I free to go?” response, although as a driver you’re not going anywhere without a ticket.

      As a point of reference: vCard is a file format standard for electronic business cards. vCards are often attached to e-mail messages, but can be exchanged in other ways, such as on the World Wide Web or instant messaging. They can contain name and address information, phone numbers, e-mail addresses, URLs, logos, photographs, and audio clips.

      So if we’re only talking about a “card”…

      • avatarAccur81 says:

        In CA, proof of insurance may be provided via an electronic device pursuant to CVC section 16028 (a). Registration updates on the DMV server include insurance status. Your local PD should also have the answer to the acceptability of electronic insurance forms.

    • avatarRobert Bub says:

      I’m not going to argue with your personal experience as an officer of the law. However, if state/local governments are willing to violate the 2nd Amendment how long will it be before they are willing to violate the 4th and 5th in order to pursue their gun confiscation efforts?

    • avatarJoke & Dagger says:

      John, I certainly take you at your word, but the bad cop videos of the day don’t give me the confidence to hand an officer my phone.

      • avatarJohn says:

        I understand the fear as there are a few videos circulating showing a few bad cops doing wrong. But if you look at it from my point of view you might understand. I stop a female who uses her phone to show me a e-card. Upon her phone lies several photos of her in various states of undress. Should I accept her showing me an e-card, she has some leg to stand on that I viewed without her consent those pictures. If instead, I told her off the bat, that I would not accept such proof of insurance, I would never be placed in that position. Miami dade is the Fraud Capital of the U.S. As such I demand proof of insurance via a hard copy from your insurance company. If you have it, go to court, case dismissed, no harm no foul. Fail to provide such proof, explain it to the judge. I have not yet seen a judge accept a picture off a phone as proof.

  13. avatarRobert Bub says:

    Ha. Robert Farago spelled my name wrong.

  14. avatarUncle Fester says:

    Search and Seizure law is complicated. But, as a former criminal defense lawyer, I would advise against ever giving the police anything electronic “voluntarily.” Once they have it, they are free to do pretty much anything that they want with it.

    While unlikely, they could probably:
    1) search the phones contents, or
    2) keep the phone as evidence.

    You are required to give the police a valid insurance card. Do it! Nothing more.

    • avatarRobert Bub says:

      My point exactly.

    • avatar16V says:

      Not so complicated anymore. I do appreciate your optimism though.

      Regardless, there’s no warrant required to take your phone away from you and search it. At least according to the 7th. Yes, this is still a bit of an odd-duck and doesn’t regularly happen. But it’s been there, it’s still here, and it’s only going to get worse. Here’s the ruling from the 7th.

      http://www.abajournal.com/files/CellPhones.pdf

      • avatarUncle Fester says:

        While there are a lot of complicated rules on when officers may or may not search you, your car, and/or your phone without a warrant, they don’t matter is you consent to a search.

        Using my imagination of what could possibly go wrong, the officer decides the topless text message your girlfriend sent you “might” have come from someone underage. Even though she is 20, you could spend a few days in jail before it gets sorted out.

  15. avatarTexas Colt carry says:

    It’s really simple guys, just don’t keep any data you don’t want seen on your phone. Dump it to your PC for storage and do a temp file wipe regularly. You can even do the data dump remotely. It is just a stupid smart phone. I don’t use mine for anything except for a phone. I have cameras for everything else.

    • avatarUncle Fester says:

      Many of us use our smart phones to do our jobs. I keep a detailed contact list, confidential work e mails, and other documents on mine. While I don’t use my phone for anything illegal, I also don’t want anyone, police or other, searching it.

      My employer has our phones password protected btw. They even have the ability to wipe the phones remotely if they are lost.

  16. avatarJoke & Dagger says:

    Tex, thanks for stating the obvious, but not keeping certain things on my phone doesn’t mean I’m giving up my phone.

  17. avatarFrank says:

    I think this is all just paranoia. Give me a break. You haven’t given that police officer any permission to search your phone or your car by showing him/her a digital Geico card. That is just nonsense. Some people need to have their heads examined.

    • avatarRyan says:

      While there is some tinfoil hattery here; you’re clearly not familiar with the legal concept of “implied consent”.

      Like when an officer says, “please step out of the vehicle, sit on the curb, pop the trunk, and hand me your keys” without any PC. He can legally tell you to do this and you can legally refuse, but most people just hand the keys over. Even people committing crimes.

      • avatarRonald Elrod says:

        That’s when you hire yourself an attorney and sue the hell out of the police officer that goes through your phone. All they’re supposed to see is the proof of insurance, NOTHING ELSE.

  18. avatarDaniel says:

    I got pulled over for my tags being expired and when I showed the officer my Geico ID on my phone his words were “I don’t want to be looking on a phone for Insurance, I want you to be responsible enough to have proof of insurance. Your phone doesn’t count.” He then proceeded to ticket me for financial responsibility (no insurance). I got it reversed at the courthouse but it was a bit silly.

  19. avatarErnie says:

    You need to examine things from a realistic aspect. Do not expect you or anyone else to subject yourselves to “what if “they accused me of under the pretense of breaking the law. That is where a smart criminal has an advantage. Remember all criminals are stupid yet most crimes are not solved and the police are supposed to be honest but this is the topic. Now to judge as to how to decide what is the correct answer is. By telling someone that what you are doing requires employing the same methods you are presently trying to avoid, in this case you probably wouldnt prosecute someone for though, means you have to make that judgement call. (Unless of course they are a different kind of lawyer). Do I have enough justification based on my personal privacy to employ some sort of random counter measure to decide whether or not to use paper or electronic. Chances are if you live in the real world you will still meet that dishonest honest ass with badge someday so I rest.

  20. avatarRonald Elrod says:

    In order for the police officer to view anything but the insurance information, he would need a warrant; which would require proof of just cause. If the officer continued to look at pictures, video, etc, he would be opening himself up to a lawsuit. I really don’t know of anyone who would want to be put in a situation where they can be sued. What is it with some people and law enforcement? Sure, there may an officer or two out of thousands that might try something like this. That’s when you hire an attorney.

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