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Enhancing Police Investigations and SAR Operations with Lawful Data Retention Requests

Updated: Jun 24

Two men looking at their smartphones.

Understanding lawful data retention requests

Mobile location data has great potential in helping trap criminals, locate lost and injured people, and assist with anti-terrorism initiatives. It recently played a critical role in solving the quadruple murder in Idaho, for example. But European mobile network operators have long faced a tight balancing act between fulfilling their legal and social duties to assist police and emergency services while also ensuring data privacy and compliance with GDPR.

The importance of accurate data in police investigations

Part of the problem is that mobile network operators’ systems were never designed to supply this type of data – their purpose is to support the smooth running of networks. They have therefore sometimes struggled to supply lawful data in a timely fashion, while ensuring they are doing so in a compliant manner and, at the same time, making certain that data is accurate, holistic and up-to-date.

Extracting and providing data: the current struggle

Extracting the requested lawful data from all their systems and providing this to authorities as a report is usually a manual task that requires a highly-skilled team. Not only is this expensive and time-consuming, but it also introduces human errors and ties up resources. Errors in lawful data retention and how it is used has led to high-profile problems – such as those experienced in Denmark where 10,700 criminal cases had to be reviewed.

“This is a very, very serious issue,” commented Jan Reckendorff, Denmark’s director of public prosecutions at the time. “We simply cannot live with the idea that information that isn’t accurate could send people to prison.”

Reckendorff went on to say that the errors meant that not only was it possible innocent people could have been placed at crime scenes, but also that criminals were wrongly excluded from inquiries.

The importance of precision in Mobile Location Data

This is not the first time that police authorities have faced such problems. In 2016, a Kansas family sued a geolocation company after their remote farm was visited countless times by police looking for fraudsters, stolen cars, missing people and hackers, as well as angry business owners complaining about scams and spamming. An investigation discovered that a LDNS (local domain name server) had incorrectly been located on their property by a location firm, which meant 600 million IP addresses had erroneously been assigned to the their remote farm.

Both of these examples illustrate why mobile location data has to be precise and reliable. When it is, it can save lives. In search & rescue (SAR) operations, for example, mobile location data can be used to confirm the last known location of a subject, which helps direct and hone searches and find people faster. Even a brief ping from a single tower provides vital information such as confirming when and where the phone was last located, and even the maximum distance from the tower (derived from signal strength). When multiple towers are involved, a more precise search area can be established and a three-dimensional picture of where the phone was located – including elevation – can be produced. Data from multiple towers also establishes direction of travel and speed, and therefore a likely travel trajectory to search.

Implementing efficient data retention solutions

“Mobile operators don’t need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to supplying mobile location data to police and emergency services,” says Subtonomy’s EVP Sales & Marketing, Fredrik Edwall. “They can benefit from the years of experience Subtonomy has in making this process easy, cost-effective, reliable and compliant to transform their approach today.”

Meet Subtonomy at ISS 2025

At ISS MEA and Europe 2025, mobile operators will be able to discover how REX assists them to fulfill their obligations in a timely, highly accurate and cost-effective manner while remaining fully compliant with their data protection obligations.

Subtonomy will also share insights into how REX tool has helped its existing customers transform their approach to these requests.

Find out more about REX here.


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