I just updated my iPhone to the new iOS7. One of the first things the new operating system prompted me to do was to turn on my location services. I gladly accepted. While I have many opinions about the new iOS, this “tracking” function did not bother me at all. Location services are used by smartphones to for a myriad of reasons. The end result of this use, however, is a detailed map of where you’ve been and how long you stayed there. This mountain of metadata is collected by Apple, Google and other companies in real time.
Jordan Rushie at Philly Law Blog writes:
You know that function “location services”? While it’s cool to show the world that you’re posting something from Thailand, Philadelphia, or China, reviewing your location services history also would allow someone to put together a very accurate profile of where you generally are. Your laptop, and ergo third parties like Apple, know where you are every single day.
While there are many “cool” uses for location services (for instance iPhones will sort the photos you take based on the location where they were taken), criminal defense attorneys (and prosecutors for that matter) can very easily use a Defendant’s location services record to establish, or tear apart, an alibi. Any witness who can place the defendant at a location other than the scene of the charged crime can provide an alibi. Now, with the use of technology, defense attorneys can easily see where their clients were and when, to near pinpoint accuracy.
Here is an example of the info stored in an iPhone. Each bubble represents a location and duration of time spent in each location can be extracted from this map and the metadata stored in the phone.
David McCallagh at CNET notes:
Courts have been split on whether warrants are required to peruse files on gadgets after an arrest, with police typically arguing hat the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on unusual searches doesn’t apply. (The Justice Department under the Obama administration, in a series of prosecutions including one in Nebraska involving a crack cocaine dealer, has taken the same position.)
If the police are already able to access this information, or obtain a warrant to do so, criminal defense attorneys would be wise to check their client’s location services information before attempting to establish an alibi.