Did Denmark Make the Wrong Call on Location Data?

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Danish authorities are reviewing 10,700 court cases over concerns that cellphone location-tracking data given as evidence may have been flawed. 

Concerns were raised after police discovered a glitch in an IT system used to convert data supplied by phone companies into evidence that can be used to place a suspect at a crime scene. The error caused data to be omitted during the conversion process, giving police an incomplete picture of where a cellphone had been taken.

The identified error was fixed in March, but a second problem emerged that could potentially place an innocent person at the scene of a crime. It transpired that some cellphone tracking data had linked phones to the wrong cellphone towers.

How decisive the flawed data may have been in determining the 10,700 verdicts affected is currently unknown. The court cases now under review date back to 2012. 

On Monday Denmark's director of public prosecutions, Jan Reckendorff, announced a two-month ban on the use of cellphone data in criminal cases while the large-scale review of verdicts is carried out. 

Speaking to the country's state broadcaster, Reckendorff said: “We cannot live with incorrect information sending people to prison.”

A steerage group has been established by the country's minister for justice to monitor the review process and assess any legal ramifications caused by the flawed data. Should it arise that flawed cellphone data has put innocent Danes behind bars, a device originally intended to connect people will have instead separated them from everyday society in the most definitive terms.

After review, a report on each case will be sent to the court and to the case's defense lawyer. Cases in which the flawed data is found to have had a significant impact on the verdict will be retried. 

Head of the Danish Bar and Law Society's criminal law committee, Karoline Normann, told The New York Times that prior to the discovery of the bugs, the accuracy of cellphone data hadn't been called into question. 

Normann said that going forward, lawyers will have to take into consideration that “evidence that may appear objective and technical doesn’t necessarily equal high-evidence value.”

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