Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Cell Phones Are Not All Bad

by Robin Sax

Oprah, I’m sorry. Please don’t think I’m a bad person because of what I’m about to write here.

I have a confession to make. I love my phone, I love technology. and I love being connected, in touch, and up on the latest, even if it causes me stress or overloads my synapses or interferes with a meal here and there. Yep, I’m one of those. You know exactly the type, the ones who are seemingly always texting, tweeting, updating, emailing, and even sometimes talking. Basically, if it involves my phone, count me in.

There are many published articles that criticize cell phones for any number of reasons, with the majority focusing on the same theme that being connected is distracting, dangerous, and even lethal. Not coincidentally, lobbyists, concerned citizens and legislators have rallied around this issue. There is even a zero tolerance time in California, with the state declaring April Distracted Driving Awareness Month, and we all have heard Oprah’s truly wonderful campaign against texting while driving (I signed that pledge).

Let me be clear: I am not here to say that all of these cell phone campaigns are not worthy, but I am also here to embrace the cell phone by taking a moment to celebrate (or LOL) about the anniversary of probably the single-most used piece of technology, the cell phone. Thirty-eight years ago the first public cell phone call was made by a Motorola executive walking on the streets of Manhattan. We’ve come a long way, baby. 

Before I highlight the benefits of cell phones, I must clear up an essential misnomer. Cell phones are not phones. Cell phones are mini-computers, mini-cameras, mini-video recorders, GPS devices, and phones all rolled into one, and that’s the beauty of these devices. Yes, they help connect our worlds, but when it comes to crime, their benefits are even greater.

We know that criminals exploit technology and advance their behaviors as technology advances. Well, folks, cops can too. And it is these benefits that have saved lives, found people and provided essential evidence later on. 

Let’s take a look.

Emergency scenarios: It's not news that cell phones often record key elements and evidence in a life-threatening disaster as well provide a lifeline and assistance in an emergency scenario. Cell phones have played a role in emergency events, from 9-1-1 calls, to young people lost while hiking or rock climbing alone in the mountains.

Crime reportinting/memoralizing: Victims and witnesses who find themselves in a crime scene have been able to use those devices in many ways--instantly calling law enforcement, snapping photos, and utilizing data stored in phones (for example, registration and insurance).

Law enforcement is often able to see the last searches on a suspect’s cell phone, Internet browsers, and can even start to form a criminal profile based on the kinds of apps, games,and searches the suspect uses.

Drug crimes: Phone records, cell phone camera pictures of drugs found as well as “pay and owe lists” stored on a drug dealer’s cell phone provide a veritable treasure trove of information. And it's all kept in one place. Before cell phones, drug dealers usually kept this incriminating information on little slips of paper shoved in wallets.

Missing persons/kidnapping: With these crimes, time is of the essence. Cell phones can let authorities know where people are. The last calls made can determine who was called, where the person was going, and where a ping goes off on a cell phone tower that helps find the location of a victim.

Domestic violence: Secret cell phones allow victims to memorialize their abusers' crimes and eventually leave the abusers. Victims can get cell phones with disposable, non-traceable numbers.

Serial killers: They often like to memorialize their crimes on their cell phone camera leaving law enforcement with ready made evidence.

Sex crimes/child pornography: Cell phones are one of the best ways to corroborate child sexual assault. In addition to porn, phones store text messages and ping locations provide the corroboration that is necessary to prove a sex crimes case. Given that cell phones are used so often by just about everybody, it's nearly impossible for a perp not to lead to a mark in the phone that will lead to eventual corroboration. In addition, child pornographers as collectors often carry and store images with them, thus making it an immediate value a crime scene evidence right there in the phone itself. 

So, while I totally agree with the downsides and problems with the cell phone, please don’t blame the device. Happy anniversary, cell phone. It’s been great working with you. This is truly a relationship that can last, so long as we all do not text and drive.


DrGina said...

Great post Robin! Thanks for pointing out that the cell phone can be the unsung hero of crime investigation.

DrGina said...

Great post Robin! Thanks for sharing the crime-fighting feats of cell phones.