EPD utilizing Cybercrime Task Force to crack cases

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Published: Sep. 26, 2022 at 7:18 PM CDT
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EVANSVILLE, Ind. (WFIE) - The Vanderburgh County Cybercrime Task Force uses electronic devices like phones, laptops and smartwatches that have been seized by a search warrant, and cracking them open to reveal what data is inside.

It’s a process that’s relatively simple according to Criminal Investigator Gage Shots.

“The systems and vendors that we have are able to pull information from the devices and paint a pretty picture with it, and we’re able to then view that data without needing to touch the phone again,” says Shots.

He says what they’re able to squeeze out of something like a smartphone is phenomenal.

“Every three seconds your phone is pinging out to the world and telling you exactly where you are,” says Shots, “every application under the sun has your conversations and your search history and things of that nature. I mean it’s pretty high-level stuff, but it’s out there.”

It’s simple, yet vital according to the task force’s director, Jessica Powers.

“Specifically when we’re talking about text messages, photos, videos, and location data, that is crucial in proving either that someone was possibly a suspect in a crime, or exonerating them of that crime,” says Powers.

She says everybody is walking around with a computer in their pocket at all times, and whether we realize it or not, that computer is calculating our every move.

They say it’s something they can exploit to help crack criminal cases, or on the opposite side of the spectrum, prove somebody’s innocence. Their work has played a crucial role in high profile cases like the murders of Robert Doerr and Trey McGillicudy.

Defense attorneys like Brandon Danks are less fond of the service. Danks says he has to worry about his client’s information being compromised.

“I don’t like it at all. It feels to me like a gross invasion of privacy,” says Danks, “now the courts have determined that it’s not, but that’s how I feel. I think there’s just too much information that they can access.”

He says he advises all of his clients to never give up any information to law enforcement, innocent or not, and that includes saying no to a seizure of any technology without proof of a warrant.

He says the data that’s pulled from the lab can be a mess.

In one instance, it can completely exonerate a client, proving with location data that they could not have possibly committed the crime.

Other times, it’s not so simple.

“A lot of the issue is that certain information can be construed as incriminating depending on how you look at it,” says Danks, “for instance, a text communication, when read by law enforcement, might read as something that’s indicative of a crime, whereas someone else might read it and have a perfectly reasonable explanation.”

Powers says ultimately their goal is to collect and analyze data, doing police work behind the scene.

She says their work plays an active role in both exonerating and convicting individuals, all without ever having to put on a bulletproof vest.