Cellebrite’s Director of Mobile Forensic Products examines how current technology is being used by police forces across the world to gain the advantage.The modern day criminal is far removed from an eighteenth century Dick Turpin; the criminal of today has evolved almost beyond recognition and is increasingly tech savvy. This has meant that law enforcement officers have needed to adapt and evolve their processes to combat this and ensure justice prevails.
Recently published statistics show that crime is soaring, with the crime rate for England and Wales doubling to more than 11.6 million offences this year according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
Historically, a large requirement for police offers was around their physical ability. In fact, until very recently there was a minimum height requirement for UK police officers of 5ft 8in. Although today’s officers haven’t been recruited into an experimental cyborg police officer program ala Alex Murphy (the Robocop from the 1987 movie), they have certainly evolved to take on the emerging job requirements of handling new technology and becoming more digitally savvy.
Although officers are becoming more technically proficient, there are also user-friendly technologies available to those in the field, which means they can have everything in front of them to help simplify data.
In the 21st century, technology is core to all our lives, whichever side of the law we reside. Evidence to this is that according to GSMA Intelligence there are now more mobile phones in use on the planet than humans to use them. Police forces recognise this and understand the importance of technology that could enable officers to extract and act on mobile data quickly in the field. Mobile devices are the DNA of our everyday lives so are now as important to forensic investigations as the search for fingerprints left on a glass. Unlocking this technological DNA could, therefore, significantly speed up the investigative process.
Time is often of the essence too, especially when it comes to the more unsavoury crimes. In murder investigations, for example, many agencies follow the 72-hour rule. This is where officers closely investigate the first 48 hours after the homicide occurred and the 24 hours prior to the homicide. This time period is the most critical, after that, the probability to solve the crime drastically decreases. This highlights why discovering all possible evidence as quickly as possible is crucial.
The recent hit Channel 4 show Hunted proved just how effective it can be to infiltrate a suspect’s phone. However, on the show it was down to the former intelligence and computer experts back in their secret hideaway rather than those in the field itself.
As was highlighted on the show, today, a suspect’s mobile device could be the biggest lead an officer can have. The device in our pockets can not only be used to track our location, but contains a goldmine of information. It is a mobile tracking device; that also leaks data. The simple fact is all of our entire lives are on the device. Our digital lives are no longer separate from our physical lives so a mobile phone opens up tactics and means that police can use to infiltrate a suspect’s inner network. Email, text messages and chat leave an indelible virtual footprint meaning the officers can interrogate the phone itself. The wealth of data that people place on social media in particular is a huge tool for the police to use to track them down.
Mobile device evidence is critical to proving innocence or guilt; revealing details and insights that can speed up investigations. Having the ability to extract and act on mobile data quickly in the field is now a key capability. In fact, much of the infamous Oscar Pistorius trial last year was based upon the tone of the conversations held within his phone.
Police forces are leveraging technology in the field to extract live device data simply, saving time while ensuring strict access control. This enables evidence to be assessed and conclusions drawn faster. Officers can take their findings and explore them further forensically, utilising the evidence available to them to create stronger cases. Police officers tend to be closest to the scene of the crime, so empowering them with technology that produces actionable data in the field can keep investigations local for a more effective process.
The majority of UK Police forces are now using technology such as that offered by Cellebrite to undertake detailed mobile forensics. The data recovered through such solutions can be extremely valuable and includes call logs, chat conversations, installed apps, SMS messages, images and videos, emails, contacts, calendar entries, location data – even when they have been supposedly deleted by the suspect.
The importance is to extend the mobile forensic investigative techniques from HQ to be utilised out in the field. This in turn helps to fast-track evidence collection and qualification, not just for speed to charging the suspect, but to limit the impact on already overstretched technicians within the force’s central laboratory. Technology can ultimately provide forces with the tools they need to catch the modern day criminal; turning even the most sceptical veteran police officer into the 21st century Robocop.