Mobile Forensics & Human Trafficking

Because traffickers may move their victims in an effort to avoid detection, GPS and other location-based data can be valuable. This evidence may be on both victims’ and suspects’ mobile devices.

Incidentally, these types of evidence don’t just exist on the devices themselves. Look for it also in removable, concealable storage devices like SD (and microSD and nanoSD) cards, call detail records, cloud storage and device backups, wireless routers (including personal mobile routers such as the Novatel MiFi) and pocket-sized external hard drives. Know how to get evidence from each location, including how to write additional warrants or other paper if needed.

Special challenges

Knowing where and how to obtain evidence of exploitation from mobile devices is just a start. You may encounter challenges along the way, including uninformed prosecutors and judges, politics associated with “macro” cases in multiple jurisdictions, or even analytical requirements that go far beyond what your analysis tools can handle.

First, the evidence is likely to be used in other ways besides being presented as evidence at trial. It may help investigators to build intelligence about networks of human traffickers or child predators, locate victims who are trapped (literally or figuratively), or potentially may be introduced during victim interviews as a way to obtain information.

Regardless of how you envision this data being used, always be sure to use best practices, document your actions thoroughly and be prepared to present the information to multiple other investigators, supervisors, attorneys and others.

Second, while many prosecutors and judges have begun to educate themselves and some are quite savvy about high tech crime, others are not. Know your prosecutor’s strengths and limitations, and be prepared to explain digital evidence. If possible, learn how to help others relate to the evidence in ordinary, everyday language--for example, that cellular tower sectors are like pieces of pie. It will help you testify in front of a jury.

Finally, understand what mobile forensics, data analytics and other evidence-gathering tools are available to you, whether in-house or as part of a task force or other law enforcement organization. Know how to obtain access to those tools, and network with other investigators to learn how to leverage them to their best advantage. Enough agencies experiencing the same problem may be able to band together and share resources as a task force.

Human trafficking and child exploitation are evils that come in many different forms. Knowing that evidence of these crimes exists on mobile devices, and how to get the evidence, will help you rescue victims and build better cases against their traffickers.


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