When it comes to defending yourself against criminal charges, it can feel like the law is stacked against you, and a recent news story does little to dispel this notion. If you are facing a criminal charge, you need to bring the strongest defense possible, and to do so, you need an experienced Wisconsin criminal defense attorney in your corner.
According to the Intercept, CellHawk is the brainchild of Hawk Analytics, a Bartonville, Texas, company, and until recently, it escaped both public notice and public scrutiny. In actuality, however, CellHawk has been in heavy rotation with law enforcement across the nation, including:
- The FBI
- Police departments
- Private investigators
CellHawk gathers immense amounts of cellular data from cellular phone providers and turns the raw data into maps that help pinpoint people’s movements, locations, and even their relationships with others. All told, the publication finds that CellHawk is an incredibly powerful surveillance tool (as revealed by police records) that is operating in near obscurity – with little to no oversight. In other words, it amounts to yet another obstacle to those facing criminal charges.
Hawk Analytics shares that CellHawk can process an entire year’s worth of phone data in 20 minutes flat – thus automating an investigatory process that used to require immense effort from a team of investigators and that often resulted in paper plots that were drawn out by hand. Those days are gone. CellHawk is a web-based product that consumes CDRs (call detail records), which record cellular connections from device to device for cell service providers and that let you know who is out there talking to whom. CDRs can also fill you in on which cell towers specific phones connect to as their owners change locations.
The data that CellHawk processes include what are known as tower dumps, which amount to a list of every phone that has connected to a specific tower. This is a form of dragnet surveillance that many proponents of criminal defense reform find extremely troubling. For example, in a 2010 case in which the FBI was attempting to collect data on a suspect in a bank robbery, it obtained more than 150,000 phone numbers in one tower dump.
Bypassing Pesky Laws
The Police routinely turn to CellHawk to provide them with cascading amounts of information – in spreadsheet form – from cell providers, such as Verizon and AT&T – sometimes without the legal nuisance of having to obtain a warrant. This is a whole lot easier than more complicated stingrays in which a mobile device that impersonates the carrier’s tower coaxes a phone into connecting with it and intercepts whatever communications ensue. CellHawk requires none of this fancy subterfuge – nor does it require careful positioning for recording devices – but instead goes directly to the source by exploiting the copious data that private phone companies have already collected.
According to CellHawk’s promotional material, it is a heck of a thing, and its surveillance capacity soars past simply analyzing the metadata that flows from those cell towers. Those in the know reveal that CellHawk’s analytics can access diverse datasets, such as GPS and rideshare records, which its unique animation analysis tool can turn into a virtual treasure trove of data that springs to life (plotting the user’s calls and locations over time). And when it comes to those personal phone-to-phone connections, CellHawk’s superpower is its ability to take up to 20 lines and animate them – showing how they move in relation to one another.
It Doesn’t Stop There
This incredibly fast data crunching is a lot, but according to the company, there’s a whole lot more to CellHawk. In fact, some of Hawk Analytics’ promotional materials tout CellHawk as a tool that is designed to engage in automatic and ongoing surveillance – not the occasional spreadsheet of information that authorities would like us to believe. Come to find out, CellHawk can shoot warning texts and emails to what it calls surveillance teams whenever a target is on the move or enters or leaves a specific location. One of the company’s own brochures puts things in chilling perspective when it tells prospective clients that CellHawk can help them find out where your suspect sleeps at night.
Earlier marketing for CellHawk is perhaps more honest about what is actually going on here (as compared to its current website, which couches things in kinder, gentler terms). Consider the following questions that CellHawks can help you with (ripped directly from a CellHawks brochure):
- Was someone at the scene during the crime?
- If not, where were they?
- Were they EVER at the crime scene?
- Have they been anyplace unusual?
- Where do they sleep?
- Who do they talk to?
The questions go on, but you likely get the picture. This is law enforcement gold, but it does not bode well for the accused.
The Experts Weigh In
You don’t have to be an expert on criminal justice to recognize that something is up when it comes to CellHawk, but to make the matter clearer, experts weigh in. According to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University – in a 2018 report – the courts are split when it comes to the need for warrants as they relate to tower dumps. Some lower courts require only a court order, which is less consequential than a warrant (requiring only reasonable grounds to believe). Further, in 2014, the American Civil Liberties Union referred to the legal standards, such as they are, for tower dumps as being extremely murky.
Reach out to an Experienced Wisconsin Criminal Defense Attorney Today
If you are facing a criminal charge, your rights hang in the balance, and you need the experienced legal guidance of a dedicated criminal defense attorney. At Hogan Eickhoff in Wisconsin, we dedicate our practice exclusively to criminal defense, which leaves our trusted criminal defense attorneys well-positioned to skillfully defend your rights – in pursuit of your case’s most favorable resolution. For more information about how we can help or to schedule your free consultation, please don’t wait to contact us at (920) 450-9800 today.