The links below are to various articles on your cell phone. If you do NOT have an up-to-date cell phone, it is highly advisable that you get one.
Cell phones become tools for helping detectives find crime suspects - Cell Phone "PINGS"
By Brian Haas and Andrew Ba Tran |South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Cell-phone companies can tell not only where your phone is, but as long as it’s on, they can trace where it’s been — whether the phone is in use or not. And that technology is becoming a staple of law enforcement investigations.
Police have said they used cell-phone records to link Tony Villegas to the disappearance and strangulation of attorney Melissa Britt Lewis. Villegas, the estranged husband of Lewis’ best friend and colleague, is being held without bond on a murder charge.
The tracking technology is a common feature of cell phones, mandated since 1999 so 911 dispatchers could easily trace the location of emergency calls. Newer phones, such as the iPhone owned by Lewis, the BlackBerry and other models that access local wireless Internet networks (wi-fi), can be tracked even more precisely than conventional cell phones, though police have not revealed whether those improved capabilities were used in the investigation into Lewis’ death.
As an investigative tool, absolutely, it’s an important element of law enforcement," said Michael Edmondson, spokesman for the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office. "It used to be that, particularly with cell-phone technology, that it was next to impossible to both locate and document an individual’s physical location and ... a record of where they were or where they might have been. That is all changing with the increase in technical abilities of both the cell-phone businesses and law enforcement as well."
As cell-phone use increased in the late 1990s, 911 dispatchers quickly realized they often couldn’t get help to callers in emergencies because unlike land lines, cell phones couldn’t be traced to an address.
Dispatchers on June 5, 1998, had to ask Denise Murray 23 times where she was after a metal rod impaled her 13-year-old daughter on Interstate 95 near Sunrise Boulevard. Her daughter survived, but the case highlighted the problem of 911 dispatchers not being able to locate callers.
"There are situations when a caller might not be familiar with a location, might not be able to identify street names, or might not speak English, that could prevent emergency help from reaching them," said Robert Kenny, a spokesman for the Federal Communications Commission.
The FCC mandated the tracking technology and also required companies to record location information in a database that can later be retrieved. Even if a cell phone is not on a call, it is constantly reaching out to make contact with cell-phone towers when it is powered on. When a phone is within range of at least three cell-phone towers, companies can gauge the phone’s distance from each tower to narrow its location to within about 300 meters.
Such logging has brought privacy concerns about who has access and rights to that information, said Guilherme Roschke, an attorney for the Electronic Privacy Information Center. He said already there have been instances of abuse.
"I’ve heard of cases of people stalked by the GPS activated on their phone, but they don’t know it," he said. "Someone activates the service without the owner’s knowledge, or sometimes the person does know, and the service is used like a digital leash in a coercive control situation or domestic abuse."
The FCC has rules prohibiting third parties from obtaining those logs without the cell-phone user’s permission or a court order.
Police quickly tap into the logs in criminal investigations. With a judge’s order, police can access cell-phone records to find out where a person’s phone is and where it has been recently.
In one recent case, a Sunrise woman was found beaten to death and set afire Dec. 23 outside a Royal Palm Beach church. According to a search warrant in the case, Sunrise police were able to show that both her cell phone and the suspect’s cell phone traveled to a location near where the woman’s body was found.
The latest phones, such as the iPhone, BlackBerry 8820, Nokia 6086 and Samsung t409, reach out not only to cell-phone towers, but to wi-fi networks. Increasingly common are phones with GPS capabilities built in, such as the Helio brand of phones. Using such technology, companies and police can track locations much more precisely than 300 meters.
"Ours is down to about 20 meters," said Ted Morgan, CEO of the Boston-based Skyhook Wireless, which provides mapping capabilities for the iPhone. "It is a big difference. The trade-off is you have to have wi-fi on the phone."
In the Lewis case, police were able to obtain records of her iPhone, which was missing after her death last week. It’s unclear whether police used traditional triangulation or tapped into the wi-fi mapping capabilities of the iPhone.
Jordan Lewin, one of Villegas’ attorneys, acknowledged that police are relying on these phone logs to prosecute his client but was skeptical it would be enough for a conviction.
"I’m curious to see how detailed the information is showing the location of the phone and its movements," Lewin said. "It certainly seems the most damaging piece of evidence, if it does exist."
Brian Haas can be reached at email@example.com
BY SOFIA SANTANA |South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Before she was fatally shot in a murder-suicide in front of the Plantation police department in April, Olidia Kerr Day called 911 from her cell phone and immediately reached a 911 operator — in the wrong city.
Day, 45, had placed her call in Plantation, but the signal bounced off a cell phone tower in Sunrise, automatically routing Day's call to Sunrise's 911 center.
About a half-minute passed before Day, frantic, was able to tell the Sunrise operator that she was in Plantation and driving to the police station there. It took another half-minute for the Sunrise operator to dial and transfer the call to Plantation's 911 center.
The scenario underscores a major issue within South Florida's 911 systems and those across the country, authorities said. Cell phone 911 calls often get routed to the wrong 911 centers because of the location of cell phone towers. This leads to delays in sending help because operators have to figure out where a caller is and which police or fire department should respond, and then transfer the call to that jurisdiction.
After a call is transferred, the caller typically has to repeat the information to another operator.
With cell phones, the caller's location does not automatically pop up on a 911 operator's computer screen.
"If you're calling wireless 911, you should assume the worst," said Paul Linnee, an emergency services consultant based in Minneapolis. "Before you call, you really have to get your facts together."
• Figure out exactly where you are. Your location will be one of the first pieces of information you need to give the operator. Know the city or neighborhood as well as the specific intersection or address.
• If you're not sure where you are, try to reference a landmark, such as a public park or a government building.
• Try to stay in one place, so that 911 dispatchers can tell police where to find you. If you are being followed or can't stay in one place, give frequent updates on your location.
• Give the operator your cell phone number, in case you get disconnected.
• Be prepared to answer a lot of questions. It's a 911 operator's job to collect as much information as possible so that police, firefighters and paramedics can be prepared to react. The operators typically ask you to describe the situation, whether there are any injuries or details about a suspect.
• While you are on the line with a 911 operator asking you questions, someone else at the 911 center, a dispatcher, is in contact with police either by radio or computer trying to send help.
• The Florida Highway Patrol has a separate emergency contact number for drivers who want to report accidents and suspicious vehicles on the highways. Dial *FHP (star 347). The number only works from cell phones.
Linnee has studied the cell phone trend and has recommended that agencies work toward centralizing their 911 operations. The fewer agencies that handle 911 calls in an area, the less of a chance that a call will have to be transferred and delayed, he said.
In Broward County, the Broward Sheriff's Office handles the bulk of the 911 calls in all but six cities and the Seminole Indian Reservation. In Palm Beach County, the 911 system is more fragmented, with calls divided among more than 20 call centers.
Typically, the closest dispatchers can trace a cell phone signal quickly is to within about a 1,000-foot radius, but that isn't always helpful in densely populated areas, like much of South Florida, said Broward sheriff's spokesman Jim Leljedal.
By Sam Coates
To its owner, the cell phone is an indispensable lifeline at times of crisis, reuniting loved ones separated by unforeseen events at the touch of a button. But for members of the emergency services making life-and-death decisions, the cell poses a conundrum: Which of the numbers stored in its electronic address book should they call to reach a casualty's next of kin?
Now a simple initiative, conceived by a paramedic in Britain, has gained momentum on both sides of the Atlantic to try to solve this problem. Cell users are being urged to put the acronym ICE -- "in case of emergency" -- before the names of the people they want to designate as next of kin in their cell address book, creating entries such as "ICE -- Dad" or "ICE -- Alison."
At least two police forces in the United States are considering the idea, according to the initiative's British-based promoters, who say there has been a flurry of interest since the recent bombings in London.
Paramedics, police and firefighters often waste valuable time trying to figure out which name in a cell phone to call when disaster strikes, according to current and retired members of the emergency services, who said they must look through wallets for clues, or scroll through cell address books and guess. Many people identify their spouse by name in their cell, making them indistinguishable from other entries.
"Sometimes dialing the number for 'Mum' or 'Dad' might not be appropriate, particularly if they are elderly, suffer from ill health or Alzheimer's," said Matthew Ware, a spokesman for the East Anglian Ambulance service, which is promoting the ICE initiative. "This would give paramedics a way of getting hold of the appropriate person in a few seconds."
The idea was conceived by Bob Brotchie, a clinical team leader for the ambulance service, after years of trying to reach relatives of people he was treating. He began the ICE initiative in April, but it gained momentum only after the bombings in London, when information about the plan spread by e-mail. Ware said the East Anglian Ambulance service received 500 inquiries in six days, from South Africa, Canada, Israel, Germany, and several organizations in the United States, including a security company from Utah working on the London bombings, police departments in Florida and Texas, and a company in Ohio.
Lt. Robert Stimpson, acting police chief of Madison, Conn., was one of those who contacted Ware. "I think it's a great idea. . . . It's so simple I can't believe that other people haven't thought of it before. Not only does it help emergency workers identify a responsible party when they come upon an unconscious person, it also helps identify the owners of lost cell phones," he said in a telephone interview.
Several next-of-kin contact systems were set up after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, such as the nonprofit National Next of Kin Registry established in January 2004 that shares information provided to state agencies in the event of an emergency. The registry was set up by Mark Cerney, a disabled Marine who noted that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that in 2003, 900,000 emergency room patients could not provide contact information because they were incapacitated.
Ware said that although there are such databases, some charge as much as $200 a year to register. The ICE initiative is available free to the 192 million cell users in the United States.
Kathleen Montgomery, deputy press secretary for the Department of Homeland Security, said she did not have any comment on the matter because it was not the department's idea. Instead, she recommended that citizens look at the department's emergency preparedness site, Ready.Gov. The site recommends that next-of-kin details and other emergency information be kept on a "family contingency plan" sheet that can be downloaded from the site.
The site offers wallet-size cards that can be distributed to family members with space for details about next of kin and additional information such as neighborhood meeting places, out-of-town contacts and other important telephone numbers.
Erin McGee, spokeswoman for the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association, which represents the wireless industry, said her members welcome the ICE initiative. "I think it has the potential to catch on. From what I've read, it seems to be already spreading beyond Britain."
Clark L. Staten, a senior analyst for the Emergency Response and Research Institute, a Chicago-based consultancy and think tank for the emergency services and military, said he thinks it sounds like a good idea, but could have a couple of pitfalls.
"There may be some privacy concerns: firstly, that the next of kin or the address or phone number could be accessed by someone other than a member of the emergency service," he said. "Secondarily, the information could become out of date, and the designated next-of-kin number is disconnected or you change your next of kin altogether. The worst -- you don't want them to call the ex."