Mobile Technology & Law Enforcement

Technology connects people and accomplishes tasks in powerfully efficient and innovative ways.  Mobile technologies magnify these capabilities, allowing access almost anywhere at any time. However, mobile technology’s efficiency and innovation carries both positive and negative outcomes. Law enforcement must stay abreast of both the advantages and risks of connected technologies in order to properly fulfill its role. And, it’s important for parents to also be aware these capabilities so they can help detect incidents and prevent them from happening.

Some risks of mobile technology include:

  • Mobile devices facilitate the taking and sending of inappropriate images.
  • Sexting—the deliberate sending of texts of a sexual nature.  Depending on the age of the participants, this activity could be harassing or illegal.
  • Textual harassment—the repeated texting of a victim. Textual harassment can be a form of stalking.
  • Mobile devices undermine safety while driving.  Some uses while driving (texting, reading a computer screen, or calling) are banned in parts of the United States.
  • Anonymous pre-paid phones allow for a variety of illegal activities.
  • In the classroom, mobile devices can facilitate cheating.
  • Mobile technologies can be used to infringe on international copyright laws and to conduct improper research.
  • The disposal of old mobile devices is problematic. The data contained on the devices is often recoverable and may contain inappropriate or illegal images, or may contain personal information leading to identity fraud or harassment.

The risks of mobile technology increase when users feel anonymous.  Such anonymity is a myth because all technology is trackable to some degree. However, in the world of virtual online platforms, consequences are minimized and sometimes irrelevant. Education is a necessary tool in encouraging users to apply good judgment and maintain connection to real life.

Law enforcement can actually use connected technology for solving crime. For example, mobile forensics—the science of recovering digital and physical information from mobile technologies—can play an important role for law enforcement. In one U.S. study, 81 percent of law enforcement surveyed believed that cell phones were involved in 76 to 100 percent of violent crimes1.  Because cell phones were involved, fingerprints, DNA, and digital data were recoverable from mobile technologies for use in investigations and solving crime.

Advances in mobile technology are endless.  Technologies converge and each new device is positioned to contain all of the advantages of the previous technology combined.  When law enforcement and parents combine to inform fellow citizens of the benefits and risks of this media convergence, they can build a community which advances the convenience and innovation of mobile technology in an ethical, resilient, responsible manner.

1. Losavioa, M., Wilsona, D., & Elmaghraby, A. (2006). Prevalence, Use, and Evidentiary Issues of Digital Evidence of Cellular Telephone Consumer and Small-Scale Digital Devices. Journal of Digital Forensic Practice, Vol 1, Issue 4, 291-296.


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