Automobile Forensics

Auto Blog

As you enter your car in the morning, the little “door ajar” light appears on the dash, this activity is now time/date stamped in the vehicle’s computers. The vehicle is started and your cell phone automatically syncs to the infotainment system downloading your call list, music, text messages, phonebook, and documenting that it is your phone syncing to the system by capturing the device ID. You plug in an iPod to listen to “Slim Whitman’s Greatest Hits” and the computer makes a note of the iPod, and your lack of taste in music. As you drive down the road, you stop at a red light next to a Starbucks, and the vehicle computer makes a record of the free Wi-Fi reaching out to your cell phone. When you pick up a colleague to carpool, once again data showing the passenger door ajar is now recorded. Your colleague has their cell phone’s Bluetooth enabled, so your infotainment system sees it, makes a note of it, and decides whether it should try and sync with the phone. It may even document the GPS location where the vehicle was when it recognized the Bluetooth, as well as where the vehicle was when your colleague gets out of the vehicle and the signal is lost.

What value would it be to know that the party making the stolen vehicle report, whose vehicle was found abandoned at the hit and run scene, had his/ her phone synced to the vehicle at the time of the accident? Or that three doors were opened indicating there were passengers, and their cell IDs were recorded as the devices reached out and tried to sync with the infotainment system? Need that GPS record showing the vehicle was at Slim Whitman’s Bar and Grill just before the event, or at the event? The drive-by shooters dump their cell phones in Lake Minnetonka? It might not be the end of the world, look to the vehicle’s Infotainment memory.

As vehicle technology increases, so will the amount of evidence available from the vehicle to help your case. Automobile forensics is in its infancy, but it is expected to expand just as quickly as the technology.

I remember in 1995 having a difficult time convincing LE agencies that they needed to start preparing for the flood of computer evidence that was on the horizon. Thirty years later, it is hard to imagine any case where important evidence cannot be gained from computers or cell phones. Before most of you will retire, there will be over 200 million vehicles that will have systems in place that may have data important for your investigation. The information is there, the technology to retrieve it is there, agencies just need to strategically prepare for it.