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Cell Phones Full of Clues

I've got a story in today's New York Times. Here's how it starts:The case against Dan Kincaid was strong. A homeowner in northern Boise, Idaho, had identified Mr. Kincaid, 44, as the person who had broken into his suburban house. But eyewitness testimony isn't always rock solid, and Mr. Kincaid was refusing to talk. The police wanted more. So they searched Mr. Kincaid's BlackBerry e-mail-capable phone electronically, and found all the evidence they needed.cell-phone.jpg"Just trying to find a way out of this neighborhood without getting caught," Mr. Kincaid wrote to his girlfriend on Aug. 1, 2005, shortly after he had been spotted. "Dogs bark if I'm between or behind houses. ... ""Cops know I have a blue shirt on," he continued. "I need to get out of here before they find me."Faced with his e-mailed admission, Mr. Kincaid agreed to a deal with prosecutors over that crime and a string of others. In February, he pleaded guilty to five counts of grand theft, resisting arrest and burglary."We seized his phone," said Detective Jeff Dustin of the Boise Police Department, "and instead of a jump shot, this case is a slam dunk."Cellphones are everywhere: 825 million were sold last year, according to the market research firm IDC. And the phones do more than just dial numbers. With expanded memories, increasingly sophisticated organizer tools and sharper cameras, they are playing ever larger roles in the lives of almost everyone including criminals. Drug dealers, rapists and murderers across the country have been caught based, at least partly, on the electronic gadgets they carry around.But extracting clues and leads from mobile electronics is no cakewalk. Unlike personal computers, 90 percent or more of which use the Windows operating system, cellphones rely on a confusing jumble of software that varies from manufacturer to manufacturer and even phone to phone. Data is often hidden or encrypted. And as long as a phone is connected to its cellular network, there is always a chance that its call histories and text messages will be erased, deliberately or otherwise. Read the rest here.

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