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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February 11, 2016

The Daily Star - Alfa call data brought to question in court - February 11,2016

Ned Whalley| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: The Special Tribunal for Lebanon heard further testimony from a representative of the Alfa network Wednesday, as prosecutors sought to establish the provenance and chain of custody of cellular phone records vital to their case. Their team has analyzed reams of reconstructed call data records in its investigation and subsequent attempt to establish the guilt of five members of Hezbollah for the assassination of Rafik Hariri. The former prime minister was killed by a massive car bomb on Valentine’s Day 2005.
The prosecution contends that the cellular records can be used to establish the defendants’ identities and their involvement in the conspiracy. Numbers they contend were used to coordinate the bombing, including one attributed to the alleged suicide bomber, were never used again after the attack.
They have produced a number of technical experts to try and establish the legitimacy of the data and defend their interpretation. But defense counselors and judges have repeatedly raised questions about its reliability and the potential for manipulation of records, particularly given the time that has elapsed since the information was collected.
Trial counsel Fabia Wong sought to dispel some of these doubts by taking protected witness PRH 707 through schematics illustrating how Alfa’s data was generated and stored. The witness, selected to represent the company due to his extensive experience with the network, tried to explain the process to the court.
He testified that call data records are produced at what are known as mobile switching centers, which route mobile telephone calls and SMS text messages and record a wide range of data about them. Networks typically use the information to bill customers and develop and improve their services. At the time, Alfa’s MSCs were produced by Swedish telecoms giant Ericsson.
The witness testified that MSCs automatically generate call data records in a “machine language,” which must be run through a proprietary protocol on a computer to make them readable.
“No one can look at the data generated by the MSCs and read it [...] this was done deliberately by the manufacturer to protect the information generated by these MSCs,” he said.
The witness said that only a fraction of the information received is used for charging customers and compiled in billing records. The raw data is kept on magnetic tapes in safes at the company’s headquarters. Lebanese law requires it be kept for ten years.
In response to requests from the office of the prosecutor, he said Alfa had a special team go back into this archive to extract raw data generated by the MSCs, in order to supplement billing records and subscriber databases with additional data on the locations of users and the identities of specific handsets.
The witness estimated no more than three people typically have access to the safes.
Wong asked the witness directly about the possibility that the records could be overwritten or amended.
“The format of the [call data record] is illegible and the regular person cannot read it,” he said. “And if you cannot read it, it would be very difficult to write.”
PRH 707 is scheduled to continue his testimony Thursday morning. It is likely that he will receive substantial scrutiny when cross examined by defense counselors, who have challenged large parts of the technical evidence brought before the court.
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