For many people, the notion that our digital devices communicate our location is concerning, and understandably so. The truth is, however, that our locations and associated activities are being monitored more closely and consistently than ever before. Location-based data can provide detailed insights into a person’s life, habits, and interests. Imagine your location being logged every time your mobile phone checks for new e-mail, when you post a tweet, “check-in” to a location/business, refresh your Facebook or other social media feed, update your “status”, take a picture or video with your phone’s camera, purchase something online, request a ride with Uber, Lyft, and whatever comes next, or otherwise check your proximity to a location via a mapping tool – the list goes on. This isn’t a hypothesis, these actions, right now, can cause the consequence of your location being logged, often in multiple places, by multiple sources, many of them using this information to assist in their future dealings with your “profile”.

At Roloff Digital Forensics, we target and utilize such information to assist attorneys in the representation of their client. This can occur by demonstrating a location-based alibi (e.g., my client couldn’t have committed that crime, they were at a location too far away to be present), demonstrating that their client’s digital devices were in a general vicinity that could be problematic (e.g., “yes, it appears your client’s phone was in a geographical location that could place them at the location in question on that critical day and time”), to pointing out the issues location-based data may have in presenting facts about a person’s digital device location (e.g., the specific geographical location, overlap/location of surrounding cellular towers, the terrain, all add uncertainty to the accuracy/specificity the location data presents).

Depending on a person’s digital/online footprint, location-based data can be voluminous and stems from many places:

  1. The digital devices: phones, tablets, computers, etc.
    • Images and videos you create, installed applications, wireless access points, global positioning system (GPS), wireless and cellular networks, etc.
  1. The service providers electronic devices interact with: AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, Comcast, etc.
    • Call/text records (CDRs) with accompanying site location, historical precision location data/nelos reports, etc.
  1. The applications and services utilized on the device: Facebook, Kik, Google applications, Apple applications, third-party applications of many varieties and sorts that you’ve installed and given permission to access your “location data”, etc.
    • Much of this information isn’t easily visible to the user. But it can be found by forensically analyzing the digital devices, issuing subpoenas, court orders, reviewing locations/applications on digital devices, and with certain service providers; by accessing your account and locating the data that has been logged about your locations.

Although location-based data can seem daunting and is at times quite intrusive, if found, collected, and analyzed correctly, it can be of immense value in litigation.

Google Location Data

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