In the world of law enforcement, it's a game changer nearly as profound as the advent of DNA testing, says the Minneapolis Star Tribune. When two 13-year-old Minnesota girls went missing last week, the first place detectives looked was for the digital clues in their iPods and smartphones. It worked. The girls were soon found in the basement of Casey Lee Chinn, 23 who is charged with felony criminal sexual conduct, kidnapping and solicitation of a child. Digital forensics, which is the examination of cellphones, tablets and personal electronics in criminal investigations, are dramatically changing the way cases are worked and solved. While technology has created new portals for predators searching for victims, it's also leaving telltale trails for police.
The number of smartphones, tablets and personal devices examined by the Anoka County, Mn., Sheriff's Office has tripled in the past three years. In 2013, detectives searched 300 phones and devices in a wide array of cases. It's now often the first piece of evidence detectives seek out. “That [missing girls] case was solved by a detective in the lab, not by any field work or eyewitness accounts. It was digital forensics,” said Commander Paul Sommer. “It's become an investigation imperative. You try to find the personal electronics.” With 90 percent of American adults now carrying a cellphone, the devices have become a constant in many people's lives in their pocket or purse all day, on their bedside table at night. It's the alarm clock, home phone line, camera, chat forum, e-mail and social media terminal. Police use that constant phone activity to verify a suspect's or witness' statement and provide a log of a person's movements and activities. Smartphones can even be an eyewitness, recording a crime in progress.