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Can you find me now? Questioning the accuracy of call-detail reports

Fingerprints, DNA, eyewitness testimony. Add one more item to the list of "ironclad" evidence exposed as biased: cell phone data. If you have been following our blog, you may have read about instances in which the validity of DNA evidence was questioned due to the manner in which it was collected or tested. In court, prosecutors may present evidence that appears to be objective, when actually the interpretation of the information makes it quite subjective. Coupled with the testimony of experts, this type of misleading evidence can be bulletproof in court.

Such is the case with data revealed by cell phones. In addition to photos and texts that document an individual's daily life, cell phone records can pinpoint a person's location each time he makes a call. If the whereabouts of that individual are later called into question, law enforcement doesn't need to confiscate the individual's phone. In order to circumvent the Supreme Court prohibition of cell phone seizure without a warrant, officers may find it easier to obtain call-detail reports. Attaining this documentation can be done by merely contacting service providers and requesting their cell-tower data.

One of the problems with this approach is that it may not provide accurate proof. Studies have been conducted to test the accuracy of such information. While most smart phones contain GPS chips that transmit a person's location to satellites, phones without such transmitters have their signals intercepted by cell towers that cannot provide an exact location. Depending on the cell tower, a phone's location can span miles. An individual's presence within a ten-mile radius should not lead to conviction of a crime, and yet, it can.

Considering the infallibility associated with cell phone data, it's important that the evidence collected be precise and correct. 

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