Tower Dumps: Tracking Wildlife Criminals

Tower Dumps: Tracking Wildlife Criminals
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In a rapidly changing world, where technological advancements are enhancing the capabilities of wildlife criminal networks for committing poaching & illegal trade of protected wildlife species and making huge profits at the cost of biodiversity; traditional willdife law enforcement needs to be equipped with innovative technological solutions to stay ahead of the criminals. Tower Dumps can be of immense help for law enforcement officials in their endevour towards fighting the menace of wildlife crimes.

A 'Tower Dump' refers to the large volume of mobile phone data from a specific geographical area for a specific time period collected by the law enforcement agencies from respective telecom service providers opearting in that particular area in persuance of the investigation of a crime. When a mobile phone is active, it communicates with the nearby cell towers for maintaing the connection to the network. The cell tower keeps a record of all the phones which are connected to it at any particular time. By obtaining and analysing these records or Tower Dumps collected from one or more cell towers for a specific time period, law enforcement officials can gather information about the presence and movements of all mobile devices in that particlur area at a given time period and zero in on the suspects of the crimes being investigated by them.

Unlike crime against the humans and properties, the victims of wildlife crimes i.e. flora & fauna are voiceless. Neither the victims nor other wildlife who must have witnessed the crime being perpetrated can lodge a criminal complaint with the wildlife enforcement agencies against the wildlife criminals nor they can testify against the perpetrators in the court of law to secure their conviction. Most of the time wildlife crimes are committed inside the forests or other aquatic/marine protected areas which makes the job of wildlife law enforcement officials undoubtedly very challenging as it is very difficult to find eye-witnesses who can assist the enforcement officials in their investigation and in bringing the criminals to justice. 

In such scenarios Tower Dumps may prove to be the best investigative ally for wildlife enforcement officers to start their investigation and connect the missing dots leading to busting of the entire supply chain & wider wildlife criminal  syndicates. Inside and in the vicinity of the protected areas where a wildlife crime has been committed, the number of active cell phones would always be very less and this may help the investigators in tracking down the individuals who were present near the crime scene when the crime was committed. Once the Tower Dumps have been obtained, the same may be analysed by the investigators who may then filter the suspected phone numbers through elimination technique. Then CAF (Customer Application Forms), CDR (Call Detail Records) of those suspected phone numbers may be analysed by the investigators and checked in their historical wildlife crime data records to find if any of them has earlier been found involved in the wildlife crimes inter alia looking for other red flags.

This is also to be remembered that Tower Dumps can only be a corroborative evidence to link the suspect with the wildlife crime. It can not become a sole irrefutable evidence against the suspect. It has to be corroborated with other evidences like recovery of wildlife contrabands & tools/weapons/poison etc. used for committing wildlife crimes from the suspect or the evidences of sale of wildlife contrabands by the suspect to the buyer. Such evidences can be gathered by the investigator through digital forensics of the digital gadgets of the suspects, through email forensics, through financial investigation & OSINT Techniques etc. Once corroborated with other independent evidnces, Tower Dumps will be a crucial evidence to prove the case beyond any reasonable doubt against the suspect in the court of law to secure his conviction as this evidence is neutral in nature, never goes hostile and can not be accused by the defence lawyer of being inimical to his client as can be alleged in case of an eye witness.

If preserved properly, Tower Dumps can be presented in the court of law as evidence even after long period. It is very important for wildlife criminal justice systems in the third world countries where it takes very long for the trial to start and complete in the court of law which results in either non-traceability of the eye witnesses or eye witnesses going hostile as they feel harassed due to long & cumbersome trial of the case. As the human memory gets contaminated with each passing day, delayed trial results in many contradictions in the testimony of the eye witnesses raising doubt, the benefit of which always goes in the favour of the accused.

Tower Dumps can also play crucial role in identifying the prospective poachers/illegal wildlife traders, hot spots for poaching/illegal wildlife trade, routes followed by the poachers/illegal wildlife traders etc. which may help in preventing further poachings/illegal wildlife trade by analyzing the loopholes in law enforcement ecosystem and plugging those loopholes. Tower Dumps can also help in identifying the pattern in the  movement and behaviours of the poachers/illegal wildlife traders, identification of other players of wildlife criminal networks etc. Such insights can empower the wildlife law enforcement agencies for taking well coordinated & targeted interventions and pro-active enforcement measures against the wildlife criminals.

In a nutshell, wildlife law enforcement has to be future-ready. To win the battle against the wildlife criminal syndicates, innovative & technology-driven solutions like Tower Dumps are required. However while using the Tower Dumps as an investgative tool, wildlife law enforcement officials must be well trained to strike balance betweeen the individual privacy and law enforcement. Tower Dumps should always be used responsibly and strictly within the legal framework as provided under the relevant constitutional provisions & national legislations: for example, Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, relevant Sections of Information Technology Act & Indian Evidence Act in Indian Constitutional-Legal Ecosystem.

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