Mobile Phone and GPS Forensics – Some Thoughts

First published February 2009

by Greg Smith
Mobile Telephone Evidence & Forensics

Mobile telephones are the predominate wireless telecommunications device throughout the world and most certainly in the UK they predominate other technologies, where ownership has reached well over saturation level when compared to the population number and mobile phone usage is embedded in UK culture. Global Positioning Systems (GPS) falls into the category of wireless communications that provides a ‘beacon’ service from which information can be derived, such as a reference clock and location coordinates. GPS is fast becoming an integrated service in mobile telephones and forms part of the forensics and evidence examination process.I have been in talks with Professor David Last, a specialist and expert in GPS forensics and evidence, for some while on the cross-connection between wireless modules that can be integration into mobile telephones and, in particular, GPS being such a module. The discussion has been directed towards interpretation of GPS data and the importance that once data has been extracted and harvested it is vital that interpretation of the GPS data needs to be accurate.

I have similar thoughts regarding mobile telephone evidence and I have raised them, in the past at my webblog, and recently published at my webblog discussion about Cell Site Analysis:

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There are many other discussions, too, at my webblog about SIM and mobile telephone examination where help and assistance has been given (free of charge and free of advertising I might add) to aid comprehension about mobile telephone evidence. Similarly, GPS must be taken seriously as people can lose their liberty and a whole lot more where evidence like this can add a contributory factor to the case against them. This matter will become more prevalent in the future as GPS modules are increasely being included in mobile telephones.

Market research from ABI indicates that shipments of GPS-enabled mobile phones will hit a speed-bump in 2009, but will still manage to post year-to-year unit growth through the current economic downturn. While global handset shipments are expected to drop by 4—5% in 2009, prior to 2009 GPS-enabled phones will show a climb to 240 million units, an increase of 6.4% for 2008. Moroever, Smartphones are expected to increase at an average 19% from 2009 to 2014 and it is predicted nine of every ten smartphones will contain GPS ICs in 2014, compared with one in three for 2008.Given these latest GPS statistics that have been released it is timely that Professor Last, the immediate past president of the Royal Institute of Navigation (RIN), should have his GPS forensics and evidence article ‘Silent Witness’ published in Navigation News (an RIN publication). I like the way David has woven in the use of computer forensics, which like mobile telephones, provides a complementary service to GPS devices for the data recovery process. Copying data though is simply not enough and the ‘Silent Witness’ article is strong on the importance of accurate interpretation of GPS data. A principle I wholehearted agree and why I have been promoting the importance of Mobile Telephone Forensics and Evidence Degrees.

David has kindly provided a copy of his ‘Silent Witness’ article that can be downloaded from Mobile Telephone Evidence at the link below:
Professor David Last ‘Silent Witness’
Navigation News January/February 2009
Pages 10-13

Thanks also to the RIN (

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