Cell Phone Tracking Analysis Saves a Defendant in Child Pornography Criminal Investigation

I was recently retained in a case where a individual was accused of dissemination of child pornography. On the surface, even to the investigators, the case appeared to be a certain guilty verdict. Thankfully for the defendant, his cell tower tracking data was able to prove he didn’t commit the crime.

The facts of the case are as follows:

  • Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) law enforcement officers at the state level were investigating the distribution of child pornography via peer to peer (P2P) software.
  • ICAC officers utilized the Child Protection System (CPS) to identify an Internet Protocol (IP) address in their jurisdiction that was disseminating child pornography
  • A subpoena was issued to the Internet Service Provider (ISP) to determine the physical address that was associated with the IP address.
  • A search warrant was served at the defendant’s home.
  • A search of the home located a Personal Computer (PC) that had P2P software installed.
  • Child Pornography was located on the computer.
  • The defendant was in his 70’s.
  • The defendant was retired from a technology oriented profession.
  • The defendant denied any knowledge of P2P software or child pornography on his computer.
  • The defendant was the only person living in the home at the time of the search warrant.
  • At the time of the search warrant’s execution, the P2P software had already been disseminating the contraband material for several weeks.
  • The defendant has an adult son that stayed with him occasionally.
  • Law enforcement officers alibied the adult son as being at another location when they believed the crime occurred. (The alibi was a girlfriend.)

Despite denying being involved in the crime, the defendant was arrested for disseminating child pornography. He was later indicted by the State Attorney’s Office.

The defense issued a subpoena to the defendants cell phone provider for his call detail records and the locations of the cell phone towers that handled the phone calls. This provided raw data on the defendants physical location when his phone was active.

I was retained by the defense. I was provided with law enforcement forensic reports and the cell phone tower data. I analyzed CPS data, computer forensics, and cell phone tower data. I was able to come to the following conclusions.

  • Law Enforcement alibied the adult son for the wrong times. They misinterpreted the evidence.
  • The cell phone tower data placed the defendant in another state when the actual “hands on” computer activity occurred that resulted in the distribution of child pornography.
  • The computer had been continually running since before the “hands on” aspect of the crime occurred almost until the time of the search warrant.

I arranged to conduct a defense computer forensics exam of the defendant’s computer. I was able to show that the adult son was probably the one using the computer at the time the “hands on” aspect of the crime occurred. I located instant message (IM) chats in which another party discusses the adult son’s problems with pornography with him. I located web cam pictures of himself that the adult son had taken.

Once law enforcement was presented with the above evidence they recommended to the state attorney’s office that the case against the defendant be dropped. The case against the defendant was dropped.

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