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The Mumbai Gang Rape and the Digital Fingerprints of a Crime

BY Rebecca Chao | Monday, August 26 2013

CPOA/flickr

Last week in Mumbai, five men dragged a 23-year-old magazine intern behind a broken wall in the deserted Shakti Mills and raped her, documenting the brutality on their cell phones through video and photos. They then threatened to publicize the footage if she tattled and forced her to clean up the crime scene. But even before they committed the heinous act, they had paved a digital trail of evidence.

In only three days, a 20-person police team caught the five rape suspects by tracing cellphone call records and signal locations, mapping out their movements both before and after the crime.

One of the suspects, Vijay Jadhav, 18, tried to evade detection by shutting off his mobile phone but he reemerged on the police radar when he turned his phone on for just a few minutes Friday night, apparently to see whether there were any messages or missed calls from his fellow accomplices.

"We traced his mobile location and with the help of informers zeroed in on him,” said one officer. “However, when we reached the video parlor we found he had destroyed his SIM card."

Salim Ansari, 27, who fled to Delhi after the crime, also kept his mobile phone switched off. But when he reached Delhi, he called a close friend from a local telephone booth. Unknown to Ansari, this friend of his had been picked up for questioning and police were able to trace the phone call to find out Ansari’s whereabouts.

This tracing technique has actually been used by Indian police for about three years, developed after the Carlton Tower tragedy -- a fire that broke out at a commercial complex in Bangalore known as the Carlton Towers, killing nine and injuring 68 others.

Fire fighters tracked the location of those trapped in the building by pinpointing the location of their mobile phones and were able to rescue even those who had fallen unconscious. This technique was later adopted by the police to track mobile phone use at crime scenes.

In November 2012, police caught a gang of bank robbers in Bangalore within five hours of the crime.

“We got feedback from all mobile towers in the area and zeroed down on mobile numbers being used at the crime scene. After eliminating the numbers of witnesses in the bank, we were left with the robber's number. Once his number was identified, we tracked him to Majestic area where we caught him,” said one police officer.

Another office, T Suneel Kumar compared a criminal's digital trail to fingerprints left behind at a crime scene.

“Wherever criminals go, they leave a mobile phone trail that enables us to catch them,” he noted.

In a country that uses modern technology to fight crime, it still lags critically in countering a culture where rape goes underreported.

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network and the UN Foundation for their generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.

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