How law enforcement can track your digital footprint

By  | 

OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Investigators said Tuesday a digital footprint helped them find the body of Sydney Loofe. The 24-year-old disappeared November 15 and was found dead Monday in rural Clay County, Nebraska. Authorities say they suspect foul play.

Two persons of interest are behind bars, but not charged in the case.

Douglas Rausch is the director of the cyber security program at Bellevue University. He's not involved in the investigation, but on his own time, the asst. professor followed the news on the search for Sydney Loofe and the use of digital footprints.

“There's an immense amount of data on your movements day-to-day on where you've been and where you're going,” said Rausch.

In a news conference Tuesday, law enforcement confirmed digital evidence helped agencies find Loofe near the town of Clay Center. No details were given as to what brought them there or if the digital footprint was left by one of the two persons of interest in the case, but officials say Sydney's cell phone last pinged near Wilber.

“As you move through networks, you are leaving a footprint everywhere you go,” said Rausch.

Your cell phone records your every move by tracking the nearest cell tower – even where you were when you took a photo.

“You can bring up images that someone posts online and it will tell you exactly where that photo was taken.”

Rausch said all that info certainly helps investigators but it’s not always a one stop source for the truth.

“It's not a clear cut push a button and the answer pops up on the screen, there needs to be a human in the loop looking at it doing the analysis,” he said.

Rausch said because of how big that footprint is, analysis takes time. Everywhere you go on a given day your cell phone's location services are tagging you. In newer model vehicles, on board Wifi and GPS services are also tracking your every move. Even online usage, like the things you search, is collected and used by advertisers. Experts say we often don't think about the complexity of our tools that keep track of us.

Rausch said the amount of data collected is often why these investigations take so long.

“That's often the challenge is just sifting through the large amounts of data to find which piece, that is really valuable, is going to be the missing piece to the puzzle you're trying to solve,” he said.

Rausch said the digital footprint isn't always accurate either because just like humans, technology makes mistakes.