Pubdate: Tue, 11 Oct 2005
Source: Daily Iowan, The (IA Edu)
Copyright: 2005 The Daily Iowan
Author: Amanda Masker, The DI


The seemingly-ubiquitous cell phones are better left at home for one 
niche of people - criminals.

As cell-phone use continues to rise, law-enforcement officials are 
using the phone records to track who called, at what time, and the 
location of the call in relation to the nearest cell tower as 
evidence in criminal investigations.

Cell-phone records are used more today than they were five years ago, 
because the phones' use has become more pronounced, said Johnson 
County Attorney J. Patrick White.

"Cell-phone records are not helping more than other phone records 
used to," he said. "There has certainly been a clear switch to cell 
phones from landlines."

He estimated that Johnson County officials process requests for 
around half a dozen cell-phone and landline phone records per month.

Meanwhile, cell-phone companies receive tens of thousands of these 
requests a year, said Cingular Wireless spokesman Mark Seigel.

While cell-phone records themselves may be key pieces of evidence for 
investigators, the documents can also provide possible witnesses or 
leads in cases, officials said.

For example, if officers were involved in a drug investigation, 
cell-phone records could help uncover networks and provide possible 
leads for witnesses, said Iowa City police Sgt. Doug Hart.

Local police have also used cell-phone records "for complicated cases 
that tend to be more serious in nature," he said.

But investigative attempts in general increase with more serious 
cases, such as sexual assaults and burglaries, White said. Cell-phone 
records can be used in thefts and lesser cases as well.

If a cell phone is stolen, accessing records may help officials find 
it, White added.

Before law-enforcement officials can access records, however, they 
must have a subpoena, court order, or warrant. Once a judge approves 
the request, cell-phone companies will provide investigators with a 
statement similar to a phone bill.

"We have to ensure we have a legitimate law-enforcement request" 
before any information will be released, Seigel said.

Officials from Iowa City police, UI police, and the Johnson County 
Sheriff's Office said they have not had problems retrieving records 
from companies.

Carriers often have entire departments to handle requests by 
law-enforcement officials.

"We have a 24-hour compliance center that does nothing but this," 
said Seigel, adding companies walk two fine lines when dealing with 
these requests. "We want to cooperate fully with law-enforcement 
requests while also protecting the privacy of our customers."
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