Cover: Electronic Surveillance of Mobile Devices

Electronic Surveillance of Mobile Devices

Understanding the Mobile Ecosystem and Applicable Surveillance Law

Published Dec 10, 2015

by Edward Balkovich, Don Prosnitz, Anne E. Boustead, Steven C. Isley

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Research Questions

  1. What challenges do law enforcement agencies face in using the data collected through the mobile ecosystem?
  2. How can law enforcement, commercial entities, and policy analysts better understand the types of data that exist in the mobile ecosystem and the laws regulating law enforcement's use of such data?

Mobile phones, the networks they connect to, the applications they use, and the services they access all collect and retain enormous amounts of information that can be useful in criminal investigations. However, state and local law enforcement face two substantial challenges when accessing these data: (1) maintaining awareness of the sources and nature of commercial data available to an investigator and (2) determining the legal rules for access to these data. This report explores these issues and describes the development of a prototype tool — the Mobile Information and Knowledge Ecosystem (MIKE) — intended to help law enforcement, commercial entities, and policy analysts explore the mobile ecosystem and understand the laws regulating law enforcement's use of data contained within the mobile ecosystem. The tool might also serve as a mechanism for sharing best practices in electronic surveillance.

Key Findings

The Mobile Ecosystem Presents Law Enforcement with Two Major Challenges

  • It is difficult for law enforcement agencies to maintain awareness of the sources and nature of commercial data available to an investigator; law enforcement may be overlooking helpful information because officers are simply unaware of its existence.
  • It is often difficult for law enforcement agencies to determine the legal rules for access to these data, since there is often uncertainty about how to interpret existing surveillance law with respect to mobile technology.

Addressing These Challenges

  • A map-like tool, in which information can be readily edited, revised, and extended like a wiki, could help a wide range of stakeholders understand and stay up to date on how information is shared within the mobile ecosystem, what types of data exist within the mobile ecosystem, and the legal protections that govern access to such data.
  • Such a tool might also serve as a mechanism for sharing best practices in electronic surveillance.

The research reported here was sponsored by the National Institute of Justice and conducted within the RAND Justice Policy Program, part of RAND Justice, Infrastructure, and Environment.

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