Combating Terrorism & Crime: Location Tracking via Cellphones


Beside monitoring content and call activity, cellular networks provide powerful location tracking of active subscribers, enabling intelligence and law enforcement agencies to track the locations of tens of thousands of subscribers per second. These capabilities are being implemented by the network providers, with authorities having mandated such capability. Tracking technologies have been developed by companies specializing in cellular services, based on protocols implemented by the companies developing the network services (Nokia, Erricson, Motorolla, etc).

Basic location monitoring and tracking services were originally developed as commercial services, deployed by service- providers, as part of added-value service. When endorsed by intelligence and law enforcement, these services require higher location and tracking accuracy, enabled by the fusion of several location techniques. As location tracking became mandatory by homeland security authorities, relevant tracking technology providers became strategically important for communications monitoring providers such as Verint and Nice Systems; both companies have recently acquired small enterprises specialized in this field.

Septier Communications provides location tracking services that enable law enforcement agencies track suspects more accurately using only cellular information. Location tracking solutions can trigger real-time alerts when a subscriber is entering or leaving a specified zone or when two suspects are in close proximity (indicating that a meeting may take place). These solutions can also help law enforcement agencies creating a geographical profile and can also aid in alibi confirmation.

Nice Systems also acquired an Israeli cellular location tracking technology provider, called Hexagon System Engineering. Hexagon provides location of cellular devices at a high level off accuracy. Law enforcement, intelligence agencies and internal security organizations already rely on NiceTrack solutions will be able to use Hexagon services to track the location of their targets, while intercepting the communications emitted by the radio or phone.

As billions of mobile phones have been used as electronic companions and personal communications, by countless subscribers worldwide, these highly sophisticated electronic devices can be mined for information, as tracks of phonebooks, text messages or call history can be traced on the device even after they are deleted from memory or SIM cards. When a mobile phone finally falls into the hands of the law, valuable data can be extracted, correlated and used as evidence providing clear indication of whereabouts, intentions and activities of the suspect.

However, until recently, such mining required expert processing and analysis that took days and weeks.
A small hand-held device has changed all that, empowering field teams and investigators with the capability to interrogate a suspect’s mobile phone, as if it was their own device. Launched in Israel in 2008 by Cellbrite, Universal Forensic Extraction Device (UFED) has already been fielded with many law enforcement agencies and police departments, empowering the investigating of field detectives and assisting in forensic evidence collection. The hand-held device is designed to extract data from over 2,000 types of handsets, smartphone and PDAs. In 2008 Cellbrite has launched a range of portable interrogation devices that can transfer, backup, and management the information stored on the phone’s memory devices. Data can be extracted even when the original SIM is not available or is locked with the user’s secret PIN.

An example of excellent detective work employing data mining of suspect’s mobile phone was the case of a murder case recently solved by DC Steve Miller from Leeds, U.K. The mass of information he obtained from a suspect’s phone was unprecedented in the details and quality. The phone recovered by the investigation had been passed around many criminals and used with a number of different SIM cards. By retrieving historical data remaining on the device, Detective Miller was able to prove that one of those cards was used by the suspect. He was able to recover a deleted text message, in which the suspect arranged to meet the murdered woman, shortly before he killed her. The defendant was convicted and sent to life imprisonment.

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