A Quarter Century of Questions: Escaping A Digital Fingerprint
By: Daniel Shedd
Posted: Jun 06, 2017 09:10 PM CDT | Updated: Jun 06, 2017 09:49 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo -- It's been 10 years since the first iPhone came out. That was in 2007.
Facebook and Myspace came on the scene around three years before that, in 2004.
It's hard to believe, but you would have to venture 12 more years in times past to get a glimpse of technology in 1992.
Tracking crimes was much different back then. They didn't have what detectives now call a 'Digital Fingerprint'.
“They left the party at Battlefield, somewhere around 2 a.m., and their vehicle was found around 12 p.m. at the Delmar address,” said David Millsap. “We would have been able to get an idea of their route just based on their cell phone.”
Current Laclede County Sherriff, David Millsap, started with the Springfield Police Department a year and a half after that fateful day in 1992.
“I really, truly believe that it’s the case that haunts the Springfield Police Department,” said Millsap.
He led a comprehensive review of the case, including over 25,000 documents just three years ago. The conclusion, is one that still runs cold.
“This is one of those tragic tales where the case just hasn’t been solved, and you hope for the best because the family certainly deserves that,” said Millsap.
Millsap is not one to make excuses as to why the case wasn’t solved, although he cited numerous holes he saw within the investigation. Of course, hindsight is 20/20.
He said that it’s often a fallacy that a big task force can get the job done. While sometimes successful, this sometimes opens the door to a botched crime scene.
There’s too many hands to stir the pot.
He also sited technological restrictions. They didn’t have cell phones or social media, like Facebook. The technological age was just an infant.
Which begs the question, how would have this case been different if it would have happened today?
“If the event happened today, the first thing investigators would start looking for are those digital footprints,” explained David Millsap.
We’ve all heard privacy concerns in recent years. Things like IP addresses and cell phone towers. They’re traceable by detectives, but Dr. Shannon McMurtrey with Drury University explains that it’s accessible to everyone.
“If you post on social media, take a picture and share that on the internet, or do anything involved with an IP address, we can deduce where you’ve been,” said Dr. Shannon McMurtrey.
He pointed out a quick search on a free website, www.socialbearing.com.
With a few clicks of the mouse, here’s a view of all the twitter activity within downtown Springfield over the last 3 days.
Each of those triangles represent a different tweet, and can be filtered down to individual users.
“When you ask people if they care about privacy, they will tell you that they really are not, especially younger generations. They really don’t care," said Dr. McMurtrey.
"It’s only when you start to show them how much of their privacy that they are giving up, without realizing it, that they start to care."
It's an advantage they didn’t have back in 1992.
“Back then you couldn’t even track local telephone calls,” said Millsap. “You had to have a trap on the phone. Someone could make that call locally, but there was no way to trace that call.”
In today’s day and age, it’s nearly impossible to escape a digital fingerprint.
Have you ever walked out of work, only for your phone to say it will take 20 minutes to drive home?
Or maybe you were downtown, and your phone beeps, reminding you how to get to your parked car.
That’s because our smart phones have been following us: Tracking every step we have taken in our journey together.
It’s not some rogue software that was downloaded in the background, or a new fancy app that you need to uninstall. It comes standard on most devices.
And the best part?
Most of us accept those terms when we turn on our phones for the first time.
“It really drove the way we handled major cases, and the way we thought about things," said Sheriff Millsap.
"I can remember many times with a missing persons case, and thinking that back I needed to do things right, right from the beginning."
"The ending starts with the beginning of the case. The things we do at the beginning of case often determine how the case will turn out,” said Millsap.
Your Digital Fingerprint (iPhone Users)
For iPhone users, there is a simple way to find out where your iPhone has been following you. This will be available if you accepted and enabled 'location services' when you first received the phone.
1. Click on Settings
2. Scroll down to Privacy
3. Click on Location Services
4. Scroll down to the bottom and tap on System Services
5. Scroll down to the bottom of the first section of services (just above 'Product Improvement'), and find Frequent Locations
If enabled (green), you will be able to click into your history of recent locations, (i.e 'Springfield, Missouri' or 'Branson, Missouri') and then on individual addresses that you have visited.
Each 'location' will tell you when you visited, how many times you visited, and for how long.