Wednesday, January 28, 2009

"Planted" GPS evidence-Opponent

Many people know you can download GPS track evidence from GPS units. However, many don't know that you can upload a GPS track, and that it would like like it was generated on that GPS, and would look as if it was downloaded from that GPS. GPS track files are simply data files. They should be treated as such, and require the same checks and balances, and should be correlated with the physical facts.

I'm not talking about a freestanding computer generated GPS track, which would be a simulated track, but an actual GPS track either downloaded from one GPS and uploaded to another, or transferred directly from one GPS to another.

Imagine the following scenario. A bad actor wants to appear as if he's somewhere else. He makes a show of buying a GPS, being seen with it, downloading his "tracks," and keeping them on a computer. He knows someone who has the same GPS with the same capabilities and upload/download system. When he knows the person will be traveling (and tracking himself) he commits a bad act (robbery or violence). The next time he sees the person, he downloads his GPS (with that person's consent, unaware of the bad act) . He uploads the track on his GPS as if it was his own track of his own movements. Police put together the pieces and find the bad actor, and seize and download the GPS. The "planted" track is the basis of the bad actor's alibi. The police, correctly assuming that the GPS is accurate and the "planted" track is valid, make the incorrect assumption that the track is for the bad actor rather than the friend. The police believe the GPS planted alibi. Just because a GPS track is on a GPS does not necessarily mean that it was created on the seized GPS.

This points out the value of verifying GPS track evidence by collateral records - security tapes, toll information, and other GPS sources - like cell phone GPS track compared to personal GPS track records. While it might take more time to confirm or refute an alibi, its worth it. Because both the GPS and these other sources are usually accurately time indexed, there would not be mounds of evidence to sift through to confirm or refute an alibi. In the above situation, camera's along the bad actor's supposed route would show him driving past, stopping for gas (if the track so indicated) or paying a toll at the correct time-indexed points.

This also bears out what I mentioned in an earlier post - a GPS tracks itself, but all else must be verified- and in this case, the bad actor's GPS didn't even track itself, another GPS was doing the tracking.

Other possible scenarios - planted GPS evidence on victims to throw off police investigations, planted GPS evidence to frame innocent persons (when the real criminal created the track & planted it on the innocent person.) Never let the accuracy of the data overwhelm common sense and good investigative proceedures.

Readers will recall that recently Hotel terrorists in India were found with GPS track evidence leading back to Pakistan. Given most GPS units capability to clear their memory with a series of keystrokes, such a track on a GPS seems suspicious - why leave a trail to where they came from? Either the terrorists may have wanted to instigate an outbreak of violence with Pakistan (where they may or may not have come from) or some other party may have wanted it to appear they came from Pakistan. In either case, one must be suspicious of a "smoking gun" GPS track. Such tracks might be planted for reasons unknown.

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