Project description

We revealed a massive everyday usage of personal meta-data from mobile operators by law enforcement agencies. The project became possible thanks to Unified State Register of Court Decisions. Every time police need a list of phone identifiers (such as phone number, IMEI or IMSI code) of all cell phones in some area at a particular time, they need to receive a court approval to ask data from cell providers. Each such decision contains unique identifiers of requested cell towers (called LAC and CellID). We extracted all tower identifiers from raw text of court decisions, then retrieved coordinates of every tower using a couple of open databases (ie Mozilla Location Services database). The map shows where police collected phone data for which period of time and how concentrated or scattered are the different places for each specific investigation. A user could read a description of each case. In addition, our reporter investigated methods how such mobile data were used by police. We found out that the number of cases using cell tower data by police is massive and rising. The total amount of such requests from police is quite big: about 50 000 requests just for one year, 2016 (for a context, there were about 150 000 court decisions about criminal offences for the same period). Clicking on one cell tower, а reader can see other towers that co-appeared in the same case, and also a link to the text of the court decision. As police officers claimed in during interviews, such mobile data becomes a single most important tool to investigate each serious crime. A few months later, we released another article about six cases that involved retrieving of the largest amount of phone data.

What makes this project innovative?

Information extraction from big amount of text data - court decisions. We merged data from court decisions with geographical coordinates. As for now, it is one of the biggest projects built on open data from Unified State Register of Court Decisions of Ukraine.

What was the impact of your project? How did you measure it?

Regional media used interactive map widget to show how police use cell towers in local areas. Our map and article spurred a discussion on how police use mobile phone data and whether they handle it properly.

Source and methodology

1. Raw texts of court decisions: Unified State Register of Court Decisions of Ukraine.
2. Geo-coordinates of cell towers to merge with unique identifiers, found in texts: Mozilla Location Services and other open cell databases.

Technologies Used

Data processing: Ruby, Postgresql, Apache Tika, R, dplyr. Interactive map: leaflet.js, d3.js.

Project members

Vlad Gerasymenko - data preparation and analysis, web development. Nadja Kelm - design. Lyubov Velichko - investigative reporting.

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