22. Memorandum submitted by Daren
This report has been compiled following a request
from the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology for information
in regard to issues affecting mobile phone evidence. It draws
upon more than three years' experience of work specialising in
forensic analysis of mobile phone evidence relied upon in criminal
cases nationwide. During the past two years alone, I have undertaken
work leading to some 50 reports and provided oral testimony in
court on a number of occasions.
Chapter 1 provides an insight into the practices
of telecommunications analysis with particular emphasis on that
of mobile phone evidence and investigations. It highlights the
reliance within such investigations on call data (phone billing
usage records and cell-site information) held for limited periods
of time by the mobile phone service providers.
Having highlighted the process of investigation
and the obtainable outcomes, Chapter 2 then provides summary details
of the existing availability of call records.
Chapter 3 outlines the implications this has
for phone examination work. It also illustrates the benefits to
be gained from being able to rely upon common extended minimum
standards of call data recording by the mobile phone network providers
and extension of the existing data retention periods for call
Finally, the arguments are summarised for the
extension of existing data retention periods and the need to increase
and standardise the supply of call records for all call events
1. MOBILE PHONE
There are three main areas for the forensic
analyst to review as follows:
1. Equipment ExaminationsThe retrieval
and analysis of data stored on, or recoverable from the mobile
phone equipment (Handset and SIM Card Subscriber Identity Module).
2. Call Billing Record AnalysisThe
analysis of call records to identify common associations and patterns
of communications, cross-referencing with data from equipment
3. Cell-Site AnalysisIdentifying the
location and movements of mobile phones according to their historical
To a greater or lesser extent, there is a requirement
for data to be provided from the relevant network provider in
all aspects of the work outlined above.
1.1 "Equipment examination"
This is the examination, data retrieval and
capture of information saved within either the SIM (Subscriber
Identity Module) card or mobile phone handset. There is a very
wide range of mobile phone models in use and specifications vary
1.1.2 The data capacity of mobile phones
continues to expand as new models come onto the market. Already
many phones have the capability to store many hundreds of text
messages, and thousands of stored telephone numbers. Certain phone
models have removable storage cards that are used to store larger
volumes of user data, these memory cards can be subjected to further
processes to recover deleted data.
1.1.3 Data sources available within a mobile
phone include, contact and associate information, contents of
text messages (including recovery of text messages deleted from
the SIM card), video data, photo images either taken or received
by the phone, stored audio voice recordings, calendar and appointments
1.1.4 Data extracted from the phone requires
validation and verification. This includes validation of the time
and date held by the phone and incorporated into some records.
In the case of text messages, it is possible to falsify a sender's
detail and also to alter the content after receipt. Techniques
are employed by the analyst to identify suspect data.
1.1.5 Analysis of the data information in
relation to phone numbers (call data, address book entries) obtained
from a handset may require follow-up investigation to gather subscriber
details (where maintained) or call records belonging to the phone
numbers obtained. These aspects require appropriate requests to
the relevant network operators for call records data, subject
to the data retention period.
1.2 Call Billing Record Analysis
Call billing records provide detail for all
1.2.1 The process of call billing involves
the examination of a person(s) phone call records to identify
one or more of the following:
To identify other third-parties who
have made communication with the target phone number being examined
(the creation of "friendship trees").
To understand what communication
has taken place with other third parties, including the duration
and frequency of calls or text messages.
To identify patterns of communication
behaviour and deviations from those patterns.
To demonstrate the use/interaction
or transfer or particular mobile phone handsets when billing records
include the handsets IMEI identifier.
1.2.2 Due to the prevalence of unregistered
SIM cards and ease in transfer of phone ownership, subscriber
details may not be available or applicable. Therefore, further
investigations have then to be made on the phone numbers found
within the target records in an attempt to positively identify
phone ownership/association. This process can significantly increase
the time expended on investigation.
1.2.3 During call billing analysis other
parties may be positively identified. This may call for similar
analysis on other identified numbers. At that stage, requests
for the billing data have to be made and the process can reiterate
many times. Each stage can be time consuming and that time expending
will be reflected in the amount (time span) of call billing remaining
in accordance with existing data retention.
1.2.4 For example a suspect telephone number
is identified five months after an alleged incident. At that stage,
based on 12 months' retention there is seven months' historical
call data remaining leading up to the incident date.
22.214.171.124 The call records/phone equipment
are examined and analysed and the process takes a further month.
From the investigation five other telephone numbers are identified
all on varying networks. At this stage there is six months of
historical call data from the date of incident. However there
is now no record of text message interaction for three of the
phones because this data is only held for six months by the relevant
126.96.36.199 The analysis of these other records
shows that there was significant interaction between these five
phones and those of two others starting three months before the
actual incident date. The second process of analysis has taken
a further two months to compile and analyse but it is now shown
that seven individuals conspired three months before the incident
date and the common link is via two other numbers now identified.
188.8.131.52 The call records of these other
two phones are now required, the investigation has been ongoing
for three months. The historical call records remaining can only
provide one month of historical data for these two phones prior
to the identified period of conspiracy.
184.108.40.206 If at that stage other numbers are
identified from the earliest call data there will not be any historical
data retained as the data retention period from the alleged incident
has diminished as time on the investigation is expended.
220.127.116.11 The example above considers intelligence/evidence
discovery well within the existing data retention period (ie 12
months "rolling" historical). However the reality can
be that the whole investigation period may take many months or
1.3 Cell-Site Analysis
The process of cell-site analysis considers
the approximate location and movements of a mobile phone based
upon the historical call events. When a mobile phone makes, and
in many cases receives, a call the relevant network operator will
record the unique identifier of the cell-site or cell-site-sector
that the call was routed to or from.
1.3.1 A network provider can supply historical
call records that show the cell-site identity for each call event.
However there is a variance in the level of detail supplied by
network operators. For example in some cases it is possible to
have both the identity of a cell-site that a call started from
and also the identity of the cell-site that the call terminated
on. Other providers only supply the start of call cell-site.
1.3.2 As with most forms of analysis, the
more data available the greater the level of analysis that can
1.3.3 In the initial stages of cell-site
analysis, the analyst will receive information in regard to the
cell-sites that have served call events for particular mobile
phones. The typical cell-site information supplied by a network
operator will include the following:
postcode and/or address;
easting and northing settings, (map
co-ordinates of sites);
number of cell-sectors;
cell-sector identification numbers;
azimuth/bearing setting (direction
in which antenna is facing in from true north).
1.3.4 Methodologies for cell-site analysis
are not defined and as such may vary from analyst to analyst.
However, I regard that certain principles exist in the performance
of cell-site analysis and these are given below:
Define the cell-site sector that
served a call event (reliance on available data).
Plot the position of that cell sector.
(call mapping process).
Understand the scale and scope of
coverage from that sector (Prediction, Review Operator's Best
Server Plots for incident dates, Field Measurement Surveys).
Validate/verify the sector coverage
according to documented settings. (Survey).
Survey actual areas of interests
and detect/define an order of service for cell-site coverage.
(Spot Measurement Surveys).
Plot the positions of other relevant
cells according to the order of service. (Network Modeling).
Consider other relevant issues such
as local demographics and topology.
Based on the results of the above
make location and/or movement predictions where possible.
1.3.5 Cell-site changes can dramatically
alter the footprint area of coverage provided from a particular
cell-site or cell-site sector, altering the range (how far), width
(how wide) and shape of each particular coverage area. The following
provides a non-exhaustive list of the types of cell-site changes
that can affect/alter the coverage area provide by a cell-site
or cell-site sector:
Changes to antenna type and antenna
efficiency, gain levels.
Changes to the physical positioning
of antenna (lateral position changes).
Changes to azimuth settings.
Vertical elevation changes, grazing
angles (vertical polarisation).
Channel frequency changes.
Several other front-end changes that
would affect the resulting coverage patterns.
1.3.6 When performing cell-site analysis
after any notable time from the actual time that calls were made,
it is important to understand what changes have taken place to
the mobile phone network for a particular area. Whilst the network
operators are often able to provide details of historical changes
and planned maintenance (cell-site downtime), the level of detail
is limited and often found to be incomplete or not available.
2. NETWORK PROVIDER
2.1 In the UK the main network providers
(data owners) are O2, Orange, T-Mobile, 3Three (Hutchinson) and
Vodafone. Virgin Mobile also generates and retains billing data,
but its backbone network provision (actual cell-sites) is provided
2.2 These network operators record the details
of the call events to and from a mobile phone. This data can include
the identity of the cell-site or cell-site sector that a call
was routed from/to.
2.3 At present there is a variance in both
the level of data recorded by each operator and also in the length
of time that data is retained.
Under current practices data is retained for
no more than 12 months. However, variances can mean that historical
call events including data for text message exchange may only
be held for six months or less in the case of certain account
types (ie contract, pre-pay, pay-as-u-go).
2.4 It should be noted that the actual content/prose
of historic text messages is not recorded/provided by any of the
providers. This data may on occasion be available when an identified
request for such data is made within days of a particular transaction.
2.5 Each of the main network operators maintains
a department to provide historical data or court liaison for law
enforcement purposes. These departments supply historical call
records and details of cell-site locations on a chargeable basis.
3. DATA REQUIREMENTSSTANDARDISATION
3.1 Standardisation on the level of historical
data available from all the network operators would improve the
quality of telecommunications evidence and reduce the overall
time taken during investigation and analysis. At a minimum level
the following should be provided regardless of account type.
3.1.1 Historical Call Billing records to
detail the following:
Phone numbers of other phones receiving
or making calls/texts to and from the target phone.
The date and time of the call events
(connecting calls, diverts to voicemail or text messages).
The duration of calls and the ringer/register
(time to answer) duration for those calls.
The IMEI handset identifier for all
3.1.2 Cell-site call data to include:
Start and End cell-site identifier
for each call event and cell-site for text message dispatch or
receipt. This to be provided for both the A end (caller) and B
end (receiver) of each call event. Some operators provide this
when both A and B end phones are registered to that particular
Record of the "Timing slot and
advance" issued for a particular call. This data is not currently
provided by any operator within standard cell-site data. Its inclusion
within records would assist the analyst in predicting if the call
was made close to or far away from the epicentre of the cell-site
and therefore increase the level of accuracy for predictions of
3.1.3 For cell-site configuration data,
the following is required in addition to the standard information
(location and azimuth settings) currently provided:
Vertical polarisation (down tilt).
3.1.4 For historical changes to cell-sites
the following data should be maintained and available on request:
Changes to azimuth settings, height,
power output and vertical polarisation.
Changes to the mobile network in
a given area, cell-sites commissioned or decommissioned.
Record of cell-site down-time.
In any review of phone evidence and data retention
the following factors should be considered.
4.1 Most people nowadays carry a mobile
phone and are carried and used not only by perpetrators of crime
and their associates, but also by victims and witnesses of crime.
In many of the criminal cases on which I have been instructed
to provide expert opinion on phone evidence, a large number of
mobile phones have been involved.
4.2 The process of investigation takes several
weeks or months depending upon the circumstance of crime/allegation.
Furthermore, some time has passed since the incident under investigation
took place before work is requested.
4.3 There is a variable time factor involved
in all stages of the evidence identification, retrieval and analysis.
From that examination further additional requests for call records
may be required. Those records may then require separate analysis
from which other numbers may be identified where once again further
call records are required. An investigation can expand and may
need to consider the historical movements and locations of other
mobiles. There is a delay to each stage during which the data
retention period is continually decreasing.
4.4 Under existing conditions data retention
of mobile telecommunications data is at best 12 months with further
restrictions applying to text message transfer details and in
data relating to particular account types.
4.5 In a Utopian world it would be beneficial
to have standardisation on the level of historical data that is
provided. For cell-site analysis there is also a need for standardisation
in the level of data being provided by the network operators and
where possible an increase to fields of data recorded or made
4.6 There is a very strong need to increase
and standardise the supply of call records for all call events
types. Having regard to the time required to fully investigate
and analyse such data, a minimum of two years' (24 months') data
retention should be applied and this should be imposed for all
inbound and outbound calls or text messages regardless of account
types. An increase to a level of five-years' data retention should
also be considered, treating call data similar to that of financial
transactions for VAT purposes. Any increase to the existing data
retention period would be beneficial to criminal investigations
or matters of national security and especially when combined with
standardisation in the level of details recorded.
4.7 The proposed upgrading of data retention
may have implications on data storage requirements for the network
providers. Increases in call data retention periods would be beneficial
to the majority of criminal investigations and it is therefore
perceived that there would be a significant increase in the requests
of such data.
An anticipated increase in the revenue generation
stream for network operators providing this historic data should
be considered against the inevitable additional storage cost arguments
forwarded by the network providers in response to proposals to
extend existing data retention for call records.
4.8 The existing practises for data retention
of call records is inadequate given the prevalence of mobile phones
in society and the overall time for any investigation or information
4.9 Standardisation in the supply of call
records together with a significant increase in the data retention
period should be considered vital to British judicial system and
to the interests of national security. Without these enhancements,
evidence that may be gathered as a result of mobile phone usage
is likely to be lost.