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How is technology helping solve criminal cases?

Digital activity leaves virtual fingerprints thanks to data mapping, smartphone tracking, and facial recognition.
Posted at 7:16 PM, Mar 20, 2023

In today’s world, it’s high tech versus high crime. Police work like dusting for prints is now supplemented with point and click.  

As digital activity leaves virtual prints thanks to data mapping, smartphone tracking, and facial recognition, the advancements are helping law enforcement prevent crime and crack cases. 

In California, investigators used forensic genetic genealogy to identify the so-called "Golden State killer" decades after his crime spree. 

Here’s how the tech is used: it profiles perpetrators using DNA. The perp’s sequence is then added to a database of DNA sequences uploaded by consumers who took DNA tests for ancestry services. 

Authorities then build a family tree with DNA matches, tracking things like newspaper obituaries and social media. 

This narrows down the search and brings things like sketches into play. 

Tech like this is a game changer. 

"Technology in solving cold cases is larger than it ever has been because there are a certain number of cases that absolutely could not be solved without things like genetic genealogy, where there's zero evidence connecting the perpetrator to the crime," said Alexis Linkletter, podcast host of "The First Degree."

A company with its hands in the technology crime solving business is Texas-based Othram.  

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CEO Dr. Kristen Mittelman explains how they work with law enforcement. 

"Each time we return an investigative lead, whether it’s a perpetrator or a victim that we’re identifying, law enforcement confirms that result. They contextualize it within their investigation – does it make sense, was that person in the area?" Mittelman said. 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there will be an 11% increase in jobs for forensic science technicians through 2031. 

Linkletter says technology is narrowing the gap between police and perpetrators. 

"Our cell phones are tracking what websites run at, what times. Everybody's got a Ring camera. And I think more and more technology is the biggest asset in crime solving," Linkletter said. 

In Chicago, authorities placed license plate readers through miles of expressways after a spike in shootings. And in Fort Myers, police officer Bensly Melidor says readers are automatically self-scanning and storing plate information.  

"If there is a description of a vehicle that we are looking for and that matches the license plate reader's information, we are able to download that," Melidor said. 

But that doesn’t mean using tech to fight crime hasn’t raised eyebrows. In Ohio, a man’s business security cameras have been the subject of scrutiny as Ring was ordered to send hours of footage to authorities for a drug investigation. The warrant did not need the business owners consent.  

Jennifer Lynch, with the digital rights advocacy group Electronic Frontier Foundation, told Politico "it really takes the control out of the hands of the homeowners and I think that’s hugely problematic." 

The tech can create a new privacy tug of war between law enforcement and the residents they commit to serve and protect.