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lexxi
02-05-2011, 04:50 AM
I posted a version of this question in the Sandbox a few months ago and got some useful answers, but the conversation soon got too technical for me to follow and I didn't pursue it.

I'm going to try again here. Keep in mind that I know next to nothing about the details about how the phones work. I just want to know what is or isn't possible for my plot points.

My murder victim is a Brit spending the summer in the US (in the mountains where cell reception is spotty). She has a mobile phone with a British provider. She receives at least one text message.

The killer wants to read the messages, maybe reply to one, and then get rid of the phone and anything on it that will tie it to him.

He wouldn't mind sneaking it into the possession of a rival as a frame-up piece of evidence against her.

The killer is much more tech-savvy than I am.

*If he deletes the messages from the phone, will the local American police be able to get access to the content of the messages, with or without the actual phone in hand?

*How difficult would it be for the police to find the phone if he plants it on the rival
-intact and turned on
-intact and turned off
-with the SIM card removed?

*How about if he throws it into a lake or crushes it to pieces when he's done with it?

Skyler
02-05-2011, 07:48 AM
1. Local police in the mountains? Probably not.

If it was New York City, then they could almost certainly recover the deleted text message(s), even (to some extent) if the phone was damaged (just not destroyed). The more technologically advanced police departments like NYPD have that kind of capability.

If they had access to the other phone (that sent the original text/received the killer's reply), they could read the content of the message from there. Otherwise, no, there's really no way for a local police office to do it. The NSA--maybe. But nobody really knows for sure where they're concerned. (The fact that it's a British provider would render it even more difficult.)

Now, that said, I doubt you're just going to have the local police working on it if the victim is a foreigner. I'm not sure on the protocol there, but if the FBI/CIA/some other federal agency got involved, recovery of the deleted text message would be considerably more possible.

2. "Officially", it will make no difference whether the phone is turned on, off, or has the SIM card removed, since there shouldn't be a way to track the phone remotely (unless the phone has an app for that). It would just be like searching for any other phone-sized piece of evidence.

3. If he throws it in a lake, a government agency like the FBI could probably recover the deleted message. If he crushes it to pieces--well, it depends on how big the pieces are. They have successfully recovered messages from phones that have taken a bullet. But, if you break it into small enough pieces, you won't be able to get anything out of it.

Hope that helps.

tirial
02-05-2011, 11:57 AM
Having worked for a mobile company, without going into technical detail - the date time, number and rough location of each text should be easily available. The message content would be harder to get. However if the victim has signed up to a backup service or linked social account (e.g. O2 Bluebook) it automatically backs up everything sent, and the murderer would not be able to delete it easily - even if he knows she's signed up to it.

Accessing the cell phone provider's records is possible, but the bureaucracy would be difficult (UK provider and US local police force). You'd probably end up going up the chain.