Tuesday, October 18, 2011

GPS Evidence: Pandemic prevention-GPS phone and Locational Evidence could Lead the Search for The Index Patient

Imagine a traveler on a busy Chicago train platform collapses. He is taken for medical help, and first responders quickly realize he has fallen ill with a fast moving highly transmissible virus. First and foremost, the first responders must locate both the travelers contacts by establishing his path of travel, and then test and isolate those contacts as soon as possible.

In the past, such a task would have been insurmountable, for certain courses of travel. Investigators would have to rely on questioning the traveler, which might not be possible if symptoms are too far advanced. Imagine our traveler is comatose, has no ID on him (stolen as he was feeling more poorly), and has a "cloned" phone with no personal information, other than the number. However, it does have GPS tracking capability.

Now, however, for certain types of travel, there is a better way. Most of us carry a locational device everywhere we go. Our cell phone. Using either GPS data or cell transmission triangulation technology, investigators can backtrack tower by tower, or using a GPS track, to determine where a traveler was at a certain time. Compared with possible modes of travel (train, car, plane) available in an area, investigators can surmise both which train the traveler was on, and when the traveler was on it.

OK, so in a couple of hours investigators know the route. However, how can that help them isolate all the people the traveler had contact with - or help locate where he caught the virus?

Two ways. First, the traveler's cell phone is unique, and will act as a way to pick it out from all other cell phones that passed through those locations. Investigators can follow back in time while that number moved backwards, until it finally stops moving backwards and stays stable for some time. That location, most likely, will be the traveler's "home," or something close enough to it that the traveler stayed there long enough to get more information about the traveler. Second, the traveler's number is surrounded by other numbers-numbers representing people he could have been in contact with, who could be infected, or could have given him the infection without knowing it.

How will investigators be able to get this cell phone information? Its private, right? Yes, it is, by Federal Law. However, under the right health crisis, hopefully the investigators can get a quick court order to disclose the information, if they can show how it will help them stop the virus spreading. The Constitution should not be a suicide pact (paraphrasing Justice Jackson in Terminiello v. City of Chicago, 337 U.S. 1 (1949)). With access to numbers of those likely to be close to the traveler, investigators can then broadcast to those phone, and those phones only, pictures of the traveler, contact numbers if the phone owners have specific symptoms, and precautions to take to prevent disease spread. Investigators can also physically locate the current realtime location those who were close to determine who, and when, was likely the source of the traveler's infection, and, if necessary, find and quarantine them. As positive cases are discovered, the whole process starts over again, with each case, until all are "run to ground."

Investigators will be able, with such a system, to determine that a flock of numbers were headed 60 miles an hour down a rail track right where a specific train would have been running, and infer those "numbers" belonged to people on the train. Of course, since people board and exit a train, all those boarding and exiting would also have to be tracked.

At some point, investigators will find someone infected before the traveler, and this person will have to be backtracked, by cell phone, if necessary, until they come to the index case, patient zero. At this point, they should have a handle on the means of transmission and source, necessary to prevent further outbreak.

While conventional methods may work to quell an outbreak, a targeted cell phone, locational based and GPS directed investigation will take hours or days less, and save more lives in the outcome.


Sunday, October 2, 2011

GPS evidence: A Solution for real Food Safety?

Since the days of Theodore Roosevelt, over 100 years ago, this country has had one of the safest food distribution systems in the world. However, that wonderful record means nothing to the families of the stricken and dead from recent food contamination outbreaks.

Food distribution used to mean shipments within cities, from local farms, or perhaps nearby states. However, with the increase in international trade, food shipments can come from anywhere in the world, and food processors might add ingredients from many food producers. Food is also handled by more middlemen in the journey from origin point to store.



Photo Courtesy of GPSinsight

Therefore, when an outbreak of contamination happens, tracing ingredients and their sources is much harder. Without being able to trace the sources, it becomes difficult to either warn consumers or remove contaminated food. According to Bloomberg Businessweek, Your Food Has Been Touched by Multitudes (http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/your-food-has-been-touched-by-multitudes-08252011.html) Congress passed a new law that gives the FDA sweeping powers to regulate or shut down violators, but did not require food producers to track their ingredients any farther up and down the food chain than one up/ one down. In other words, producers only need to know who they bought from and who they sold to, not the food's whole “history.” Any break in this chain can stop an investigation cold. With business bankruptcies on the rise, those breaks can occur anywhere in the chain.

How could GPS evidence help? Well to coin the old phrase: “We have the technology. . .” to make a safer food system. Let's think how food distribution works: Buyers buy food in easily traceable lots (truckloads, containers, pallets or cases) and either combine them with other ingredients or ship them off in other identifiable lots (canned goods, cases of fruit, pallets of bread, etc. ) to the final seller. Once in stores, food is usually tracked according to bar codes, which helps identify what has been sold.

If sellers were required to attach bar codes to each “lot” they sold, be it a truckload or a case, and associate electronically that barcode with a GPS track of the travel that truck had during delivery, investigations into contaminated food would take minutes, and contaminated food could be identifiable, and removed within hours. Each purchaser would get (and keep) the electronic trackmap back to the source; then add its own GPS information when it shipped to the next purchaser. If many foods were combined, all the constituent tracks would be passed along. The store that finally sells to the consumer would have a pedigree of the food from farm to table, and be able to track all the ingredients to its source.

Does this mean each melon needs a bar code? No, but each case or pallet would. There should be sufficient evidence that could track the food back to its source. What about Mom & Pop direct sellers? Direct sellers would be exempt, because the buyer knows who he or she is buying from- the local source.

Wouldn't this be a burden on buyers and sellers? No, not when you consider that outbreaks in recent history threatened entire industries (think “Roma tomatoes”) and were sometimes in error. The expense is surely worth it compared with the lives of innocent consumers, often the very young, who are most susceptible to being poisoned by contaminated foods. This is also cheaper than having hundreds of investigators trying to track down information that may no longer exist, if it ever existed at all. The recent melon lysteria outbreak put all melons under scrutiny for months when only one farms actually produced the problem melons. Tracking would not only not only halt contaminated food shipments, it would show which producers were clearly not contaminated. While tracking can't replace inspectors, it is cheaper than hiring all the inspectors necessary to ensure total food safety.

Would Theodore Roosevelt endorse such a system? I can only believe he'd have one word for it: “Bully!”

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

GPS evidence: State of Mind of the target suspect




GPS evidence created without the knowledge of the target suspect is one of the most powerful and

convincing forms of evidence available to a proponent of evidence. However, proponents must beware: This statement is predicated on an issue of a state of mind of the actor: created. . . without the knowledge of. .

If the target of GPS related investigation detects tracking, he or she can alter their behavior in ways that will make them look innocent, and use the GPS track evidence as a co-conspirator in a cover up. Unfortunately, if not detected, GPS evidence is so credible, such a cover up is unlikely to be detected. The character of GPS evidence is entirely changed by the target's knowledge that GPS tracking is occurring.

How would someone know that they are being tracked by GPS? They would not see anyone following them, or any evidence of typical surveillance. However, they may realize they are a target of a general


investigation, and attempt to discern if a GPS is attached. They could detect possible tracking by:

  1. Seeing the attachment, but not reacting to the attachment

  2. Finding the attached device (or running over it when it falls off)

  3. Detecting emissions from a GPS transceivers

  4. Discerning levels of surveillance at endpoints of travel, but detecting no surveillance between endpoints.


Typically, GPS receivers, transceivers, or track recorders are connected to a form of transport available excl

usively to the target. Of course, the GPS device is connected in such a way that tampering may be detected (or should be). If time does not permit, because of stealthy on-site attachment, such anti-tamper mechanisms may not be in place.

Again, the attachment phase of a GPS tracker allows the target to "manipulate" GPS evidence collection in several ways if the target knows or suspects he or she is being tracked:

  1. Using the target vehicle in a typical fashion solely be the target until a critical time period-then loaning out the target vehicle to an innocent third party and using alternate transport to commit crime or carry out acts that are the target of investigation-thus using GPS evidence as a false alibi

  2. Again, using the vehicle typically until the critical phase then transferring the GPS device to a innocent vehicle (or removing it temporarily) while the critical acts occur. After the critical acts occur,

    reattaching the GPS device.

  3. Not using the vehicle the GPS is attached to (and using other transport to commit target acts.)

  4. Destroying the GPS receiver-transceiver. This last alternative discloses the targets knowledge of tracking, however, and actually might represent the best-case once the target knows tracking is occurring; at least the proponents know that GPS surveillance has been blown, and can move on to other means of detection.


How can proponents of GPS evidence make sure they are not being played by false GPS evidence from a subject?

  1. Use other forms of verification of the GPS track, (traffic cams, store cams, web cams, etc.) and don't take that track on its face; especially tracks that deviate from a typical vehicle usage. If the GPS says the suspect visited store X, and store X's surveillance footage does not show the suspect where he/she says he/she was, the GPS tracking is not credible.

  2. Treat exculpatory GPS evidence as suspect until confirmed for critical time periods by traditional forms of evidence, such as witness interviews, interviews with the suspect, etc.


Remember: because GPS evidence is technically so credible, even the police or proponents can be "human engineered" into believing the basic presumptions (The GPS was on the vehicle, and the tracked target suspect was driving the vehicle) have been met.

Because GPS evidence is so time specific, even a false track can be used to disclose a deception. How? If an investigator knows where a suspect claims they were during a specific time period, the investigator can use traditional investigative techniques to either confirm or refute an alibi claim. Such techniques should be specific to the person, not just the vehicle tracked.

For instance, a suspect claims to have visited a store, a bank, and gotten gas for his vehicle during a critical time frame. All the suspects claimed locations are substantially physically removed from the crime scene and are verified by a third-party collected GPS track from a GPS transceiver attached to his vehicle giving real time updates. A thorough investigator would not simply accept the GPS track as the last word; rather, the investigator would check time-stamped deposit slips to see if they fell within the GPS record, attempt to get time stamped bank surveillance photos for the time in question, receipts from the gas station, along with photo surveillance, and any other forms of verification to either confirm or refute the presumptions, including witness recollections.

In my fictional example, for instance, its entirely possible that an investigator would find that the suspect had visited the store, the bank and gas station on the day in question, but not during the critical time frame, but two hours before. Although the suspect had receipts within the critical time frame, surveillance showed that an unknowing accomplice, using the suspects vehicle, visited the locations using the suspects vehicle and turned the receipts over to the suspect. The suspect submitted the receipts as if he

The suspect, knowing his vehicle was being GPS tracked, attempted to use the GPS track to close the book on further investigation of his alibi. Witnesses correctly remembered that he was there, but, of course, couldn't place the time frame. The suspect even made a point of going to the witnesses, and asking questions so they would recognize him.

Would it be possible to fool a GPS track to attempt to establish an alibi? Possibly. In the above scenario, imagine that the suspect actually made three stops, all verified for surveillance, but switched to a different vehicle after the third stop, while an accomplice drove the tracked vehicle to unverifiable locations while the crime occurred. Then the suspect and accomplice later met up and swapped vehicles again so the suspect appeared to be driving the tracked vehicle the whole time. Then the suspect intentionally went speeding through a known speed trap and got a ticket, verified on dash cam..


The state of mind of a target of tracking is critical. An unknowing target will create evidence that will either exonerate or implicate the target. A target aware of tracking will be in a position to mislead and derail the investigation. Proponents and opponents of GPS evidence always have to remember that a GPS track is the starting point to an investigation, not the final ending point. Verifying a single stop does not necessarily verify an entire track, and time that is undocumented is undocumented The value of GPS evidence is it limits the scope of the investigation to matters either included in the GPS track, or completely excluded from the track.