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Modern Policing Requires Modern Technology

Modernize Your Agency With Mobile Phone Forensics

As law enforcement leaders continue to modernize their agencies, departments of all sizes are now regularly purchasing and using a wide variety of technology to assist them with solving crimes and keeping their communities safe. Many agencies are investing in license plate reader technology, gunshot detection tools, drones, evidence management software, virtual reality training, and rapid DNA technology. These tools can greatly improve closure rates and the safety of the jurisdictions in which they are deployed.  

Not all technology is equally prioritized

There are a wide variety of reasons for differences in acceptance and usage of technology solutions by law enforcement agencies. The prioritization rationale ranges from awareness, regional priorities of county and city governments, law enforcement administrators’ philosophies, legal or policy limitations, misconceptions about a particular technology, and often budget limitations. While these reasons can be significant hurdles, law enforcement leaders must continually evaluate and adapt their strategy and tactics as technology evolves to provide the greatest possible effectiveness for their jurisdictions and those they serve.  

And yet, while law enforcement leaders are investing in a wide range of technology solutions, mobile phone forensics tools, which play a critical role in a wide range of investigations, have been deprioritized by many agencies. Many agencies have access to digital forensics and mobile phone forensics capabilities through other departments, agencies, and task forces. However, this reliance on those entities may be a less attractive and feasible option as their backlogs grow and new technology solutions provide more accessible options.  If mobile phone data is important, why is mobile device forensics not prioritized?  

Why doesn’t your agency have mobile phone forensics?

  • Is the reason cost?
  • Is it not understanding the importance or available options?
  • Are you training and “who’s going to do it” a reason you are not diving into mobile phone processing?
  • Do you send your mobile phones to be processed by another agency? What is the time involved in transporting that evidence? Are there challenges associated with chain of custody? How long are you waiting for them to process that phone? 
  • How long is it taking you to get critical information so you can move forward with your investigation?  

I firmly believe that agencies of all sizes need to start strategically thinking about developing the capability to process mobile phones on their own. I am not suggesting every agency needs a full digital forensics lab, but most agencies do need the ability to process mobile phones quickly and efficiently so they can proceed with their cases and those investigations don’t become stagnant waiting on critical leads.  

Think about your own agency’s seizure rate of mobile phones. Ask yourself these questions: 

  • Does your agency seize and consider mobile phone evidence when investigating all types of crimes? Or are your investigators only seizing mobile phones when investigating “major” crimes or “priority cases” or “cases of significance”? 
  • Does your agency consider the mobile phone evidence from witness, victim, and suspect phones?  
  • Are your officers and investigators saying, “it will take too long to process so we won’t seize that phone”? 
  • Are your officers and investigators saying, “it is too much trouble to travel to another agency, relinquish our best evidence, document the chain of custody, and then wait”? 
  • Are your officers and investigators saying, “we don’t have a way to access the data on a locked phone”? 

Your answers to these questions have a direct impact on your agency’s ability to solve crimes and your ability to provide safer communities.  

Digital data has reached the top of the list as a main source of evidence within investigations – and many times information gathered from mobile phones is THE main source of evidence. Virtually everyone uses a mobile phone for personal and professional communication, browsing social media, navigation, and documenting our lives with photos. Yet, there are still cases in which mobile phone evidence is not being fully optimized.  

Here are six reasons agencies should start developing mobile phone forensics capabilities now and how Magnet GRAYKEY can help support those goals:  

  1. Retrieve Critical Data Faster – Multiple tools on the market can gain access and extract encrypted or inaccessible data on locked and unlocked devices. GRAYKEY can provide same-day access to the latest iOS and Android devices, often in under one hour. When you get the data quickly – you have the information you need to proceed with your investigation. When you have these capabilities in-house, there is no more waiting in someone else’s backlog or reprioritization.   
  2. Cost – With anything, there are tangible and intangible costs. Some products allow you to send extractions to others, negating the need to transfer data and extractions with costly external storage media. But, more importantly, consider the intangible costs. What is the cost of not getting leads quickly or rescuing a victim faster? What is the cost of not solving a crime and bringing closure to a family?   
  3. Ease of Use – Some mobile phone forensics tools require some advanced training. GRAYKEY requires no special training and is built on a plug-and-play platform so that you can get started on day one.  Magnet Forensics also provides training for GRAYKEY, which is offered online
  4. Collaboration – Modern mobile phone forensics tools allow investigations to progress quickly. GRAYKEY extracts data, and when paired with AXIOM, and tools like Magnet REVIEW allow you to safely collaborate with other law enforcement professionals in real time. But you still retain your ability to use additional analytic tools to examine the evidence, so that you can validate your extractions and analysis.  
  5. Simplify Your Chain of Custody – The ability to process your own devices removes the need to drive or ship evidence to a state lab, Regional Computer Forensics Laboratory (RCFL), or neighboring agency to be processed. When you process devices in-house, you simplify the chain of custody. Locally processing the data not only puts evidence control and the investigation back in your agency’s hands but also avoids time lost to travel and processing backlogs.  
  6. There is something to be said for doing it yourself – When you can process mobile phones on your own, you control the extracted, viewed, analyzed, reported, and used data. When other entities process your evidence, you may receive an image you have to sift through or a report with missing data or evidence that may pertain to your case. No one knows your case better than you.   

You Arrive On The Scene

It’s a missing person investigation or a homicide and you need leads fast. You have a phone that may belong to a victim, a witness, or possibly a suspect. You take the phone to your mobile phone lab – or you have those tools in the field with you. Your examiner or investigator is able to extract data from that mobile device. With the correct extraction and analytics tools, they are able to simultaneously send that extraction to the investigators in the field so they can see that data and analysis in real time and start looking for possible leads – and acting on them. They can get leads almost immediately. How could you not want that capability for your agency? 

Technology comes with a monetary cost but those funds are more than recouped through the value of local control, efficient and data-driven investigations, and avoided costs in training, storage, and processing. New technologies provide a golden opportunity to be more effective and respond faster if leaders embrace and adapt their approach. The key is understanding the value and accessibility of mobile phone forensic tools and making the philosophical shift in thinking to consider mobile devices early in all reasonably applicable investigations. 

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