Protecting the Data on Suspect’s Smartphones

Modern technology in the form of the cell phone has created a new source of evidence and one that it is up to the officer who collects the phone to protect this evidence. I can hear you know, “I do protect it, I turn the phone off and lock it up in the evidence room.” Today’s cell phones contain a treasure trove of information that must be secured just as much as the device itself.


On Today’s Smartphones
Whether the phone is using iOS, Android, or Microsoft Windows® for phones, they all store a ton of data, have direct access to the web and can send and receive files in many formats. They also use a variety of communication apps that circumvent even the carriers attempts to provide records when subpoenaed. Among these apps are Skype, Snapchat, and WhatsApp, which all use data instead of the text messaging network.

But, if you want to be able to access this information for evidence, you better know how to protect it from the owner of the phone or his friends. Both Apple and Android phones can be accessed remotely, in many cases even if they are turned off. Once the phone is accessed, the perpetrator can use a special app to completely erase everything on the phone and restore it back to “fresh out of the box” condition, leaving you with a blank phone.

So How Do You Protect the Data
There are several ways you can go about protecting the data you badly need as evidence from being altered or completely erased.

• Kid Gloves
At no point in time should you touch the phone with your bare hands, be sure to wear gloves. This will preserve any prints and not contaminate the phone with yours.
• Keep It Off
If the phone is turned off when it is collected, leave it turned off and simply photograph it for evidence.
• If It’s On
If the phone is turned on, leave it turned on and photograph the screen.
• Keep It Safe
To keep the phone safe from outside interference, place it in a “Faraday” container, wrap it in aluminum foil, or some other form of signal-blocking container. The intent is to ensure that no one can remotely access the phone and tamper with the data it contains.
• Grab That Charger
If you can find it, grab the charger that goes with the phone. Once you place the phone in the container, it will constantly search for a network signal. This leads to rapid battery drainage. You will need to charge the phone in order to access the data.

What Not to Do
Once you have the phone in your custody, the last thing you want to do is attempt to access the data yourself. With most phones after a specified number of incorrect attempts to enter the password, they are designed to lock out the person making the attempt. In some instances, this can be overcome, but no matter how you look at it (even if you are able to access the data), any attempt is actually tampering with evidence. The evidence contained in today’s cell phones can make or break your case, it is your job to protect it.

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