The Lebanese Center for Human Rights (CLDH) is a local non-profit, non-partisan Lebanese human rights organization in Beirut that was established by the Franco-Lebanese Movement SOLIDA (Support for Lebanese Detained Arbitrarily) in 2006. SOLIDA has been active since 1996 in the struggle against arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance and the impunity of those perpetrating gross human violations.

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August 22, 2015

The Daily Star - Telecoms expert explains cellphone evidence to STL, August 22, 2015

Ned Whalley

The Special Tribunal for Lebanon heard further testimony from a prosecution expert witness Friday, before adjourning until Monday when the defense will begin its cross-examination.

John Edward Philips, an expert in cell-site analysis, spent the session explaining the methodology used to link cellphones to each other and to their users. His testimony highlighted the extreme complexity of the process, but also the sophisticated analysis that can be brought to bear to establish such connections.

Using dozens of slides, Philips briefed the court on the capabilities – and limits – of cell-site analysis, recounting numerous examples from other criminal cases on how it can be used to link people to events they have taken great pains to distance themselves from. His testimony touched on phones whose ownership was attributed by the prosecution to Hezbollah members Salim Ayyash and Mustafa Badreddine, defendants in the case, but largely served to lay the theoretical groundwork on which it will presumably seek to build later in the trial.

The STL has relied on telecoms data to indict five Hezbollah members in the Feb. 14, 2005, assassination of former premier Rafik Hariri.

Early in the proceedings, the prosecutor asserted that “there’s no great magic” in the data and call log analysis, but Philips’ testimony was sufficiently complex to draw a number of clarifying questions and requests for repetition from the judges.

He spent significant time explaining how phones can be linked to individuals by their usage patterns, using the information gleaned from call logs.

“A single call might not show anything – patterns are far more useful,” Philips said. He also discussed at length how one can identify a person using multiple phones for different purposes.

The prosecution alleges that three different sets of “mission phones” were used specifically to plan and execute the assassination of Hariri. Philips suggested with a series of Venn diagrams that one set of phones was clearly connected to the crime, while two other groups of “mission phones” could be linked to that set. One of those groups could then be connected to personal cellphones, information about which could be linked to the users themselves.

Philips noted that while he was familiar with the use of “mission phones,” the practice was exceedingly rare, and his experience was necessarily limited.

He testified that the level of complexity alleged to have been undertaken in the plot was unlike anything he had witnessed before. “I’ve never seen anything this involved ... or quite so sophisticated.”

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