The Gps Systems Used For Solving Crime Information Technology Essay

GPS was developed as a worldwide navigation and positioning facility for military and civilian use. It uses satellites that orbit the Earth and constantly transmit their precise time and position in space. After determining its relative position to several satellites, a GPS receiver can determine the exact location of its host vehicle using triangulation techniques (Taylor). GPS navigation systems have actually been around since 1986 and have been used by many different organizations. Some of its customers include the U.S. Army, the FBI, the Mayo Clinic, and the General Motors Proving Grounds (Taylor).

GPS which stands for Global Positioning Systems are being used not only across the country but across the world. People us these systems to navigate throughout the world so they don’t get lost. It can also be used to find out where a crime took place or what route the bank robbers used to get out of the country. It can be used for many different ways to help solve crimes, and criminal patterns. In this research paper a methodology for the Forensic Acquisition of the Tom Tom will be explored. Descriptions of how and what a Tom Tom can store, and process will be explained. What kind of role GPS navigation systems play in the criminal world. For example how a GPS system can help solve crimes such as leading the detectives to areas that have case breaking evidence, or tracking the movements and patterns of criminals. Phones are becoming so advanced they can know be equipped with GPS systems to have the convenience of navigation right in your hand. GPS navigation systems are a big part of our way to navigate throughout the world, and are an up and coming part of solving criminal activities.3

GPS navigation systems were developed by the military. In the 1990’s was the time the systems started showing up in vehicles across the nation. Like all electronics the prices have dropped over the years to under $150. The Consumer Electronics Association estimates 20 percent of American households own a portable GPS system and 9 percent have vehicles equipped with in-dash systems (Stacy). Police departments without the suspect knowing sometimes use GPS to monitor the movements of the vehicles. Most people argue that this is unconstitutional because it is being done without a court order or a warrant.

It is easier to obtain evidence from a satellite navigation system then it has been in the past. GPS’s are becoming more common across the world and are falling in price. Satellite Navigation units have the potential to provide valuable historical location data to investigators (Hannay). Dealing with satellite navigation systems (SNS) is dealing with digital evidence as a whole. There are a number of issues that come with digital evidence such as the intangibility of the evidence being collected. As the evidence only exists in digital form the method of acquisition heavily depends on the nature of the storage media on which the target information is located (Hannay). The procedure is to preserve the integrity of the original evidence and allow this to be confirmed at a later time. This is done by detailed documentation and hashing algorithms. In order to do the actual investigation a copy must be made. This is a step in computer forensics so that the investigator can manipulate the evidence but not worry because the original is not being used.

The Tom Tom is a device that requires the use of an SD card. The use of this SD card is critical towards the operation of the unit because the core operating system exists on the card. The information on the SD card is that of the x86 boot sector, mapping data, operating system files, configuration files, and swap space. This information was chosen for a number of different reasons, and was done so in a non-invasive manner. The Tom Tom is a device that information can be found easily and with little experience, but it is impossible to tell if someone has tampered with the device to change evidence. A number of alternate sources for potential evidence exist, however access to these would likely require some access to the internals of the device. For example internal flash chips and the GPS receiver chip itself could serve as a potential source of information (Hannay). The storage into evidence of the GPS devices is recommended to be in an EM shielded area and connected to an appropriate power source, and the device in the off position. This device should not be powered on until the appropriate time to look for the evidence needed for the specific court case.

The Methodology behind extracting information from GPS navigation systems is a standard procedure. As the media to be required is a standard SD card the procedure for acquiring a forensic image of this media involves attaching the device to a system in read only mode and acquiring a bit stream copy of the SD card (Hannay). As with any forensic procedure the media should hashed before and after acquisition, the resulting copy of the data should also be hashed in order to verify its integrity (Hannay). Also SD cards all have the write protect tab you can switch on and off just like old 3 ¼ floppy diskettes. The position of the tap on the SD card does not matter because the Tom Tom does not care if writing should be a loud or not on the card. The card is treated as writable regardless of the tabs position.

There are a number of items needed to perform the computer forensics analysis of the SD card. Write blocking SD card reader is a main item needed to start the investigation. Initial examination of commercially available SD card readers has shown that it is possible to modify these devices so they will not perform write operations (Hannay). On the SD card itself; there is a pin that detects the position of the write protect tab. Once the pin is bent it will always detect the SD card in the read only position. The result of this is that all media will be treated as read only, regardless of the position of the tab (Hannay).

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The forensic work station of computer forensic analyst is just your typical set up. It is just your every day PC with USB capabilities and a large enough storage area on the PC to hold all of the data being extracted. This Process I am about to explain is just one way of extracting information from the device. In this case it is assumed that the workstation in question is running a Linux operating system with access to a terminal. The process to extract information from the SD card would be after attaching the blocked USB SD card reader one would insert a non-critical SD card for testing purposes. Then perform a Hash of the SD card. This will make certain that SD card has not been mounted. Now write to the card, and perform an additional hash and check and see if the hash matches the original. Once this has been completed remove the practice SD card and insert the suspect card.

There are limitations by using this method when extracting information. This method was what worked for the Tom Tom models and has not been tested on other types of navigation systems. In addition other limitations might include the location of the data may be present in the flash memory of the device internal GPS module. There is current ongoing research being conducted in order to determine the significance of evidence located on areas of the device other than the SD card (Hannay). Also other navigation devices are being looked at to determine the forensic value of data within the unit.

One of the problems with using GPS evidence in court cases is the constitutional concerns that govern the problem. The 4th amendment (The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized). This is a big concern about automobiles and what is inside the vehicles. A court case State of Washington v. William Bradley Jackson, 150 Wash.2d 251, 76 P.3d 217, is a good example of the legal usage of a GPS locating device. This court case involved Mr. Jackson calling 911 on the disappearance of his 9 year old daughter Valiree who was missing from their home in the Spokane Valley. Detective Madesen, who also responded, saw bloodstains on Valiree’s pillow and faded blood on the bed sheet (Moenssens). Jackson explained to the detective that Valiree had a nose bleed the night before, but the Madesen saw nothing used to stop a nose bleed at residence. Later detectives soon believed that Jackson had something to do with his daughter’s disappearance (Moenssens). Detectives believed that Jackson probably removed Valiree’s body from the house. On October 23, 1999, the police obtained a warrant impound Jackson’s two vehicles and search his home. On October 26th, Detective Knechtel got a 10 day warrant to attach GPS devices to the two vehicles while they were still impounded (Moenssens). Each device was connected to the 12 volt electrical system for each vehicle. After the installment of the GPS systems the vehicles were returned to Jackson without his knowledge so that he can be tracked to an exact location. The detectives did mention to Jackson that they believed he was the one who hastily disposed of the body to plant a seed in his mind. Through all of this the detective’s did get a ten day warrant for the GPS system’s on the vehicles, and later a second ten day warrant because they needed more time.

Over a course of 20 days the detectives recorded many different locations where Jackson had been traveling around to. One of the sites that Jackson visited was Springdale where they found Valiree’s body in a shallow grave site. On November 16th Jackson borrowed his neighbor’s truck to finish a job. He used the truck because he suspected police were following him around. Witnesses said they saw him at the grave site in Springdale and when he returned the truck he left a shovel in the back. This was all of the evidence the detectives need to make the arrest. Jackson wrote to his parents, claiming that his new hunting buddy “Craig” might well have kidnapped Valriee, but he would later admit that he made up this story (Moenssens). Throughout the whole ordeal Jackson kept making up stories about what happened, but nothing would really stick in his favor. Long story short with the help of GPS tracking systems a murderer was caught just by the simple fact of tracking his movement. In the eyes of the detectives the GPS device is the same as visual surveillance with binoculars and flashlights. The court thought that GPS tracking systems do a lot more than just basic surveillance. For example, the device can provide a detailed record of travel to doctors’ offices, banks, gambling casinos, tanning salons, places of worship, political party meetings, bars, grocery stores, exercise gyms, place where children are dropped off , and so on (Moenssens). The GPS tracking devices record all of these travels and more, and thus can provide a detailed picture of one’s life (Moenssens). Courts could raise the issue of unlawful searches and seizures, but by getting not one but two court ordered warrants when they did not have to, the court was lawfully within their limitations.

In United States v. Garcia, the Seventh Circuit followed suit, holding that the state’s use of a Global Positioning System (GPS) device to monitor a suspect’s vehicle was not a search and therefore did not require probable cause (Harvard Law Review). The police began investigating Bernardo Garcia, with a history of meth-related offenses.” Officers learned that

Garcia had told acquaintances that he intended to begin making the drug, clearly not a smart man by informing others on his current actions. Later Police had video tape of Garcia purchasing the products that were identified as equipment used for creating the drug. The police later learned that Garcia was driving a gray Ford Tempo and, without obtaining a warrant, planted a GPS tracking device on the vehicle. Judge Posner observed that the state could have lawfully tracked the defendant’s movements using cameras or satellite imagery and that GPS tracking fell into the same category, because the GPS satellite merely “transmitted geophysical coordinates” instead of images (Harvard Law Review). By placing GPS systems in this category it made it easier to not worry about obtaining a warrant due to the fact that it is not a search of his vehicle.

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Another quick look at cases involving GPS systems was the case involving the murder of a pregnant 27 year old wife by her husband. Peterson, 31, is charged with killing his pregnant wife, Laci, and their unborn son. Their bodies washed up separately on the shore of San Francisco Bay in April 2003. Prosecutors have said they would seek the death penalty if Peterson is convicted (, Law Center). A GPS system was placed on the vehicle that Peterson was using to track his location at all times. A prosecution witness testified last week that the GPS devices, despite briefly malfunctioning at least four times, accurately tracked Peterson to San Francisco Bay between the time his wife was reported missing and he was arrested (, Law Center). The GPS location device was used to pinpoint Peterson’s location along with a witness to verify the information. Peterson told police he was fishing in the bay December 24, 2002, the day his wife disappeared, and had launched his boat from the Berkeley Marina. The bodies washed up on shore only two miles from this location. Even thought the prosecutors claimed the GPS evidence was circumstantial the evidence lead investigators to believe that he was guilty by driving to the bay for fear of someone would find the bodies washed up on shore. There are still issues dealing with GPS tracking systems in investigations, but in the case of these two murder cases it help to solve or at the very least uncover damaging evidence.

This court case involved a man in Butte, Mont., pleaded guilty to rape shortly after a judge ruled that evidence from the GPS unit in his car could be used against him in trial (Stacy). The prosecutors were going to us the GPS evidence to show he was in that area on the “prowl” looking for someone to make a victim. In this case just the GPS location was enough to scare the defendant into admitting his guilt. Another would be in New Brighton, Pa., a trucker’s GPS system led police to charge him with setting his own home on fire (Stacy). GPS records showed his rig was parked about 100 yards from his house at the time of the fire (Stacy). The evidence pointed to him because his motive would be to collect the insurance money for the fire. This man was found guilty for starting the fire.

In 2006, police in Virginia Beach, Va., used the GPS on a homicide victim’s cell phone to find the phone and her purse in a garbage can behind a home (Stacy). The home was linked to the man who was eventually charged with killing her (Stacy).

A real problem is occurring more frequently in the world today involving GPS jamming systems. The recent appearance of readily available, low-cost GPS jamming devices presents a real and immediate threat to all such tracking and security systems. Criminals now employ jammers that can block both GPS reception and GSM in Europe, and U.S. and other mobile phone systems throughout the world, rendering vulnerable the use of GPS in critical security applications (Last).

GPS units are on the way to being as used as radios in vehicles. The usage of this navigation tool is a new and important way of tracking the movements of suspects. Some car navigators disclose a great deal of information: who owns them; multiple addresses; a home address plus favorite addresses; destinations visited most frequently or most recently; the language spoken by the user, and other preferences; whether the user travels abroad; and occasionally telephone calls made and received. Some units even contain a detailed record of journeys stretching back over months, each point timed and dated (Last). With this detailed evidence law enforcement agents would be wise to use this information as evidence do to its accuracy of detail.

Probably the most impressive forensic evidence involving GPS comes from the tracking systems now fitted to increasing numbers of trucks, trailers, delivery vans, and rental cars. Each vehicle carries a receiver that records its location and sends it at intervals to a tracking center (Last). A lot of companies use this technique in order to keep track of their products. An alarm can be raised if important cargo deviates from its planned route, or if a retail car is trying to cross the border of another country illegally. These tracking systems are almost always covert and hard to notice, and moreover it is totally legal do to the fact the vehicle is owned by the company and not by the individual renting.

The conflict with the fourth amendment will be an ongoing issue for courts for a long time. This problem should fit under the same category as having surveillance on a suspect. Even though there has been controversy dealing with this type of evidence in court, GPS navigation systems have helped (as stated above) solve, and locate crime scene evidence. When dealing with the inner workings (hardware) with the GPS it is the same thing as computer evidence. The SD card must be write protected in order to look at the data on it. There are always limitations just like computer forensics. Some of the destinations might be saved in the flash memory, and you would have to search information on the GPS navigation unit.

Being able to track a car or a person who is doing harm to others is possibly the best way to stop these harmful acts as a whole. The trucker that burned his home down was caught because GPS evidence had him at the scene of the crime. In the next ten years almost all the cars will have factory built in GPS systems already installed. There are also reasons that police should not be able to track someone if they have zero reason to put surveillance on it in the first place. Only people who are suspected without a shadow of a doubt should have GPS units put onto their vehicles. GPS navigation systems will be the future when dealing with police surveillance. Dealing with cars or even a person’s cell phone will be the new age of forensics.

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The biggest fear about using GPS systems is in the case of U.S. vs. Garcia the use of the systems was not considered a search. Therefore the state did not have to obtain a warrant for the use of the tracking system. This raises an alarming problem with not only the state but the federal government abusing their power with surveillance on everyone. There has to be a boundary to where the governments of our federal and state can go when it comes to GPS surveillance. What requires a warrant and what does not require a warrant? Who will the law enforcement organizations watch and what rights do those people have? Our world is in a new era of technology and our constitutional amendments have to accommodate for the changes.

Work Cited



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Subjects: SECURITY systems; SYSTEMS engineering; OAKLAND (Calif.); CALIFORNIA; Police Protection; Security Systems Services (except Locksmiths); STRATEGIC weapons systems; POLICE; STRATEGIC forces; RECONNAISSANCE operations

Database: Business Source Complete

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Subjects: CASE studies; UNIVERSITIES & colleges — Employees; UNIVERSITIES & colleges; INFORMATION technology; CANADA; Colleges, Universities, and Professional Schools; RADIO frequency identification systems; GLOBAL Positioning System; SECURITY measures

Database: Business Source Complete

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A Methodology for the Forensic Acquisition of the Tom Tom One Satellite Navigation System

By, Peter Hannay

Edith Cowan University

[email protected]



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CONSTITUTIONAL LAW — FOURTH AMENDMENT — SEVENTH CIRCUIT HOLDS THAT GPS TRACKING IS NOT A SEARCH.Full Text Available Harvard Law Review, Jun2007, Vol. 120 Issue 8, p2230-2237, 8p; (AN 25417117)

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Judge allows GPS evidence in Peterson case

By, Unknown (, law center)



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Attaching a GPS Locator System to a Car

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Database: Business Source Complete

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Prosecutor Use GPS to Clinch Cases

By, Mitch Stacy

August 28, 2008


Human rights abuse and other criminal violations in Port-au-Prince, Haiti: a random survey of households.Full Text Available By: Kolbe, Athena R.; Hutson, Royce A.. Lancet, 9/2/2006, Vol. 368 Issue 9538, p864-873, 10p, 3 Charts; DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(06)69211-8; (AN 22209101)

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