020 7193 4905

Who was that masked man?

Maybe the camera doesn’t know, but the phone might

The power of the handheld computers, aka smartphones, that most of us carry around with us, goes a long way. As mentioned in a previous article, your phone can be a silent witness to your actions. But turning off location services, the GPS tracking that allows many apps to function efficiently, does not necessarily prevent your movements from being recorded, and used as evidence.

Take the case of the high school in America where the night before their graduation ceremony, some pupils started spray-painting their school buildings with swastikas, racist graffiti insulting their black principal, and assorted racist and obscene words and phrases. What began as a little prank, intending to paint a harmless slogan, quickly escalated after a few beers – illegal in their state of Maryland for under 21’s. Somehow, a lot of latent hate and racism erupted from their spray cans.

But these guys, even under the influence of beer, were smart, or so they believed. Knowing that the school had CCTV installed, they masked their faces so that they wouldn’t be identified when the camera footage was examined.

But… whoops! Phones to the rescue. As with all modern educational establishments, Glenelg High School provides Wi-Fi for its students and when the vandals visited the school that night to spray their hateful insults, their phones automatically connected to the Wi-Fi network, providing a unique identifier for each of the perpetrators, timestamped, and which could be correlated with the CCTV footage.

Stripped of their graduation robes and arrested, charged with the vandalism and perpetrating a hate crime, the four young men received jail sentences to be served over a period of weekends, and all claim to have renounced whatever racism prompted their actions.



Every contact leaves a trace

In forensic science, the underpining mantra is that “every contact leaves a trace”, and this is true, not only of physical forensic science, such as fingerprinting and DNA analysis, but also in digital forensic investigations.

In this particular instance, the trace was left not on the culprits’ phones, but on the servers which granted access to the school’s Wi-Fi. Even if the culprits had wiped or destroyed their phones, the evidence that they had logged into the school’s Wi-Fi would indelibly and incontrovertibly link them to those events. 

At First Response, we know where these digital ‘fingerprints’ are most likely to be found, and how to ‘dust’ for them. Using state-of-the-art software to tie the different threads together, often in a matter of hours rather than weeks, we can then present a court-ready expert report for our clients to use as evidence should they wish to pursue legal remedies.

The context in which we deploy these skills include criminal cases which may span continents, as well as matters of family law, such as divorce and custody, and also cybercrimes such as data breaches and thefts of intellectual property as well as the deliberate injection of malware into a system.


If you need digital evidence to prove a point, contact us to find out how we can help you.