Crime Scene Investigation – Challenges of Cellular Phones & Handheld Devices

Take a moment during your day and look around at all the technology buzzing away and crackling about the airwaves.  Cell phones are literally everywhere and some phones have amazing capabilities of text messaging, Internet search, email, and GPS to just name a few.  It has been estimated that 90% of all Americans own a cell phone.  That number is just an amazing statistic to ponder.

What does this mean for police and crime scene investigators?

As with any evidence, this new and constantly evolving technology poses challenges with law enforcement on how to properly handle this type of evidence during an investigation.  However, these cell phones and handheld devices can be extremely helpful in order to solve crimes for both minor and major cases. 

Handheld devices are like complex little computers and pose many questions on the proper procedure of legal authority and potential evidence protection.  Cell phones operate on radio frequency protocols.  For example, when a cell phone is turned on, it searches for the strongest signal.  It will continue to search and adjust accordingly.  The most recent information is then recorded as a database type of entry in the cell phone file system. 

There are three main questions that seem to plague law enforcement during their investigations.

1.                  Should the cell phone/handheld device be powered off or left on?

2.                  Is it necessary to have a proper legal authority to conduct a forensic examination?

3.                  What’s the best way to protect this evidentiary data?

It is recommended to power the device off in order to preserve the data and battery power.  It’s just like all forms of potential evidence and it’s important to take precautions to preserve it for any investigation.

Cell phones and handheld devices are basically like any other computer evidence and should have the proper legal authority to conduct the forensic examination.  Searches that are incident to arrest are similar to searches conducted of arrestees and motor vehicles.  There are penal codes that allow law enforcement to conduct searches for police officer safety and the preservation of evidence that can/will be destroyed, as in exigent circumstances.  

To protect this type of evidence after it’s properly collected, it must be turned off, packaged, and placed in evidence storage with the proper chain of custody.  It is imperative that the evidence is handled with extreme caution as to not change the evidence in any way.  It is also important that any lab technician handling the evidence use some type of shielding to prevent contamination or loss of evidentiary data.  This is a complicated and daunting task for any evidence or lab technician, but vital for the investigative efforts.      

In so many ways, crime scene investigation has seemed to move into a more science fiction based application and keeps evolving with the needs of technology.  The next time you send a text or surf the Internet on your handheld device or cell phone, think about all the information that is stored and what is says about you. 

Jennifer Chase
Award Winning Author & Criminologist

Book & Crime Talk:
Books: Compulsion = Dead Game = Silent Partner = Screenwriting

About jchasenovelist

Published thriller author, criminologist, and blogger.
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