In 2006, the 20 year old Kurdish woman from London, Banaz Mahmod, was brutally murdered in a so-called ‘honour killing’, orchestrated by her father and uncle. Both family members have since been imprisoned for life, along with Mohammed Saleh Ali and Omar Hussein, the cousins of Banaz Mahmod.
Banaz had been in a physically and sexually abusive relationship with her husband, whom she was with as a result of an arranged marriage, but had started a relationship with another man to escape the abuse she was suffering at the hands of her husband. She was murdered for this.
Recently, the investigating officer on the case, DCI Caroline Goode, spoke out about how the case unravelled and the critical importance of mobile forensic analysis in finding the body of Miss Mahmod, which in turn helped to prosecute four members of her family.
This is a powerful example of how mobile forensics has resulted in the successful prosecution of the criminals involved, but also the closure that was subsequently given to Banaz’s partner, who was able to bury the woman he loved.
In this instance, the use of mobile forensic analysis was the turning point in the criminal case. Without the retrieval of mobile phone data, Banaz’s body may never have been found and her killers may have escaped prosecution.
What can investigators expect to retrieve from mobile devices?
Mobile forensics is all about establishing connections and building a picture. Of course, investigators need to know what to expect to find from mobile devices, but they should also apply traditional investigative tactics when it comes to the analysis of this data.
If, for example, the police retrieve an individual’s mobile phone that contains text messages from the suspect they are pursuing, it is important that the investigators approach the obtained data in an objective manner. Yes, it could be highly valuable evidence, but equally it could just be an innocent communication.
Mobile forensic analysis is the most effective when investigators use it to support the case, while applying human rationale to the evidence that they obtain from the device they are analysing.
Mobile data can take many forms. Anything from images to voice messages; there is a broad range of evidence that can be retrieved from a suspect’s mobile device. Data items such as texts, instant messages and emails can be critical to helping investigators create links and patterns in a pending criminal case.
What do these links tell us about the suspect?
In a digital age, so much of our communication between friends and family is undertaken using mobile devices. This is something that forensic analysts and investigators should use to their advantage, as a mobile device can reveal a great deal about life patterns, behaviour and personal relationships.
The tone of a text or voice message can give valuable information about the sort of relationship between the suspect and their family or close friends, can help to build a picture of the sort of lifestyle they lead and possibly even help with the psychoanalysis of the suspect.
The retrieval of GPS data from the suspect’s phone is also of great importance to investigators. Being able to pinpoint when and where the suspect was at the time of the crime in question, could well be the most decisive piece of evidence when the case is brought to court.
A mobile device is a very personal tool and as such can offer so much more to investigators than DNA analysis can. Analysing mobile data doesn’t just give evidence that can be used to convict, it can also allow investigators to get inside the mind of the criminal; what he or she is thinking and what they plan to do next.
The technology that’s available to investigators to extract and analyse mobile data
Arguably, the most effective mobile forensic technology is Cellebrite’s UFED Link Analysis. This not only allows for the extraction and analysis of mobile data, it also gives investigators the ability to create links between criminals and criminal networks.
It not only creates a bigger picture for investigators, it also provides fast results for cases that require real-time, immediate action.
In a case where there is more than one suspect, the Link Analysis technology can be used to great effect to construct links between suspects and to visualise the communications between these parties.
The technology really comes into its own when investigating organised or gang-related crime. These criminals will have to communicate with each other to plan operations and they are likely to do so using their mobile devices. The UFED Link Analysis can identify these communications and connect the suspects.
The part that mobile forensics plays in cases such as that of Banaz Mahmod
In the case of Banaz Mahmod, retrieving mobile phone data was of vital importance. In many cases, and indeed that of Banaz Mahmod, the victim knows their killer. This is where mobile forensics is at its most effective.
When the victim knows their killer, technology such as Cellebrite’s UFED Link Analysis, will be instrumental in exposing the link between the victim and the killer, which is made easier if the victim is a friend or relation of the killer.
The tragic and completely unnecessary murder of Banaz Mahmod, highlights the importance that mobile forensics plays in criminal cases. Without such technology, Banaz’s killers may never have been brought to justice and her body may never have been found.