Denmark Releases 32 Prisoners Convicted Because Of Flawed Mobile Phone Tracking Data

A few weeks ago, Techdirt wrote about Denmark reviewing 10,000 court verdicts because of errors in mobile phone tracking data that was offered as evidence in those cases. At that time, it wasn’t clear how many of the group were affected by the unreliable data. However, the Guardian reports that 32 people have already been freed. Given the large number of cases involved, it seems unlikely that many have been reviewed in such a short space of time. If that’s the case, it is possible that quite a few more verdicts will be overturned, and more people released. Companies providing mobile phone services in Denmark are naturally keen to distance themselves from this mess. Jakob Willer, speaking on behalf of the country’s telecoms industry association, said it was not their job to provide evidence:

“We should remember: data is created to help deliver telecom services, not to control citizens or for surveillance,” Willer said. He conceded it could be valuable to police, but insisted its primary purpose was to facilitate communication between users.

That’s an important point. If the authorities wish to use this kind of data they need to take into account that it was never designed to track people, and therefore has limitations as evidence. Fortunately, Denmark’s embarrassing discovery that an unknown number of over 10,000 verdicts may be based on unreliable evidence has been something of a wake-up call for the country’s lawyers. Karoline Normann, the head of the Danish law society’s criminal law committee, told Agence-France Presse:

“This situation has changed our mindset about cellphone data. We are probably going to question it as we normally question a witness or other types of evidence, where we consider circumstances like who produced the evidence, and why and how.”

It’s troubling that it didn’t occur to the legal profession to do that before. Just because information comes from high-tech sources doesn’t mean it is infallible or that it can’t be challenged.

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