How to corroborate witness evidence with Google Maps
Use technology to corroborate witness evidence by scrolling through Google Maps. The app collects vast amounts of data on the places you go, with journey details including times and dates.
OMG I just found the best source of corroborative evidence, and I didn’t even know it existed!
Ever struggled through an interview with your witness being very vague about locations and dates? Despite the legal system requiring specific details of events it is often very hard for witnesses to remember where they were or the time and date of when an incident occurred.
Finding corroboration has always been a challenge. However, a little spy is in pretty much everyone’s pocket – Google Maps.
What does Google Maps record?
Google maps records lots of information about where you go and at what time. Making it the perfect aid to memory or corroborative evidence to support witness accounts.
If not disabled and deleted regularly, Google Maps may have this information saved in real time accessible to witnesses and investigators (with permission) at the touch of a few buttons.
How do you find the records?
- Open Google maps on the relevant device.
- Click the profile image in the top righthand corner
- Select ‘Your data maps’
- Under Location History, select ‘See and delete activity’
Activity is recorded under a few different headings, the most useful will be the Day and Location.
Under ‘Day’ you can select the relevant day on the calendar to view the persons activities on any given day.
If your witness has used Google maps to search for locations and navigate, these journeys are recorded too, in fine detail. WARNING – check that the details are correct – in the above example my movements are recorded as Skiing – I was not Skiing in Pittwater at the hight of an Australian summer, I was in a boat on Pittwater at the time – so not skiing but in a speed boat for 9 mins.
If your witness has used Google maps to search for locations and navigate, these journeys are recorded too, in fine detail. WARNING – check that the details are correct – in the above example my movements are recorded as Skiing – I was not Skiing in Pittwater at the height of an Australian summer, I was in a boat on Pittwater at the time – so not skiing but in a speed boat for 9 mins.
How can you use this information?
There are two major benefits for an investigator when this information has been recorded.
1.Prior to conducting an interview with a witness or respondent the records can be accessed by the individual to help them reconstruct a more accurate timeline of events. These records contain dates, times and places that may otherwise have be forgotten. If you are considering asking witnesses to review the material prior to your interview, make sure you give instructions to the witness/respondent on:
- How to view the records
- The necessity to take screen shots of any relevant records
- The requirement to not delete any of the records
- The requirement to back up the device and provide it for proper forensic analysis if necessary.
- During an interview, with the interviewee’s permission, the investigator can scroll through the records looking for information on specific dates or locations. When doing this investigators should:
- Obtain permission prior to accessing the records (in writing or on audio)
- Search the device in the presence of the owner of the device
- Ask relevant questions regarding the accuracy of relevant records found
- Take screen shots of relevant pages at the time
- NOT delete or alter any records found
- Request to keep the device for proper forensic analysis if necessary
The owner of the device must give permission for you to access the data, as you are logging into a Google account which may be a personal account held on a work phone, you also need the permission of the account holder( if they are different). Best practice would be to obtain the permission of the owner(s) and seize the device with permission of the owner of the device.
Particular care will need to be taken in using this evidence where devices or accounts are shared. In such cases expert digital forensic analysis may be required.
Of course, when dealing with digital records, it is important not to assume anything. The absence of a record is not proof that a thing did not happen, it simply means there are no records to corroborate it.
When dealing with digital records it is important to ensure you are attributing the record to the correct events or person. In serious cases or where digital evidence is going to be contested or relied upon, it is always safer to use a digital forensic expert to obtain the records.