There is one element of cell phone forensics that the public, including some attorneys, doesn’t often think about and it is one that can make a huge difference – if CONDUCTED IN A TIMELY MANNER.
When most people think of cell phone forensics, they think of mobile phone analysis or cell phone spyware detection. In most of those instances, the actual mobile device is needed and forensic cellular evidence is extracted using data mining software.
However, a cell phone investigation can be the first step in uncovering critical evidence for situations other than forensics data recovery and mobile phone hack detection.
A good example is how, in September, 2014, cell phone forensics helped to narrow the search area for a missing airplane in Alabama.
There were two men aboard, both experienced pilots. Both had cell phones and it was suspected that the plane they were in had crashed. Obviously, if no one could find the plane, no one had access to their phones.
But what can, and did, happen was investigators started pinging cell phone devices that belonged to the men. Pinging cell phones locates, sometimes generally, sometime more specifically, the device. The precision is determined by the cell tower location in proximity to the phone. Cell tower triangulation can sometimes be calculated to determine more exact locations.
Through the legal process for cell records, their mobile phone usage records were obtained and that allowed investigators to determine a time line. Calls and all data stopped at just before 11 a.m. on both phones.
Using forensic cellular evidence regarding location and timing, the search area was dramatically reduced and that saved time, effort and money for searchers.
The critical element in collecting records and pinging cell phones is time. Records are only maintained for a short window of time by carriers and a subpoena is required to obtain them. The difficult part is that subpoena language for cell records is specific and different for each carrier. Working with an investigative firm like is important. From our extensive experience in the industry, we know the specific language required by each carrier, which means no time is lost in repeated requests.
The added benefits of an experienced firm is that the investigator is not only a ping expert, but a ping witness in court, if needed.
Not only is there a time issue with legal issues. But cell phones run out of batteries and you can’t ping cell phones if the batteries have died. There is no time to waste.
Locating a missing person is one of the specialties of , and our understanding of the need for quick action and expert experience in cell phone forensics is the reason why.
-Brenda McGinley, CEO, All in Investigations, All in Investigations