Published on April 27th, 2022 | by Michael Gebretsadik
In general, 5G networks make gathering intelligence from digital communications more difficult due to factors such as encryption, increased traffic, and more diverse types of data. However, location-based services are a notable exception. The 5G Location Management Function (LMF) enables lawful mediation platforms to attach precise location information to devices used in intercepted communications in real time. Denser cell deployment and beamforming – or the use of radio frequency management to direct wireless signals toward a specific device – at the base station produces a very narrow beam-target area, within which any given device served by that cell can be located. This capability can even provide location data for the z-axis, allowing analysts to identify the specific floor a device is on within a building, for example.
This represents a dramatic improvement over network-based location data in legacy (i.e., 3G, or even 4G) networks, which provide only approximate positioning along an x- and y-axis. In addition, GPS or device-based positioning is usually restricted by the user or device itself outside of emergency call situations, which makes precise network-based positioning all the more important. A 5G LMF offers several precise, device-agnostic, network-based positioning methods that improve law enforcement agencies’ (LEAs) ability to find persons of interest.
SS8 is building on its long-standing leadership in location services with the acquisition of Creativity Software. The transaction enhances SS8’s solutions with real time location capabilities that significantly improve lawful intelligence insights and enable public safety answering points (PSAPs) to provide more complete information to first responders. This functionality supports more efficient criminal and intelligence investigations and protects society against threats to life and property.
Integration of Location-Based Services into Lawful Intelligence
SS8’s improved platform now encompasses the gateway mobile location center (GMLC) and LMF, as well as the serving mobile location center (SMLC) for 4G and prior networks. That breadth of capabilities extends our location-based services to include the more precise 5G functionalities available within the updated 3GPP standards framework, such as direct querying of the GMLC.
The GMLC provides the interface for the mediation platform to access location data, handling authentication and authorization tasks for those requests to protect privacy. It interconnects with the LMF or SMLC to provide more precise network-based location, which can be incorporated into the handover of lawful intercept data to make it more robust. 5G LI mediation platforms like SS8’s Xcipio, thanks to 3GPP/ETSI 33.107 Rel 16, now have access to the Le interface using the Open Mobile Alliance (OMA) Mobile Location Protocol (MLP).
The compliant integration of such services into lawful intelligence workflows makes location a first-order data type. Since it is obtained directly from the network for a specific purpose, it can be accurately correlated with intercepted communication data in real time.
Real Time and Asynchronous Location Intelligence
The ability to query the location of a target in real time (synchronously) using the LMF in 5G networks has clear tactical advantages. It can be instrumental in analyzing a target’s movements to assess evolving threats, as well as in the pursuit and apprehension of suspects.
By combining this type of analysis with asynchronous location data like historical positioning information, LEAs gain new insights into investigations. Often, real time monitoring provides the evidence necessary to obtain a warrant, and it can also help analysts determine what historical information to pursue once the proper legal authorization is obtained.
Together, synchronous and asynchronous capabilities help investigators establish a target’s pattern of life, such as whom they are talking to or meeting with. The enhanced location-based services in 5G networks can also provide a greater understanding of events in a specific area or behaviors of specific individuals.
Flexibility Across Both Active and Passive Measures
Successful investigations often require both active and passive location data collection. For example, geofencing – or the monitoring of a geographic area rather than an individual subject, sometimes yields just a few targets, making it feasible for the LMF to actively query the GMLC for their location on a regular basis.
SS8’s platform, however, can provision as many as 10,000 targets. Querying against this many devices is impractical and places an excessive load on the network. Passive lawful interception methods are therefore needed if an LEA must monitor a crowded or highly trafficked area of interest, for example.
If an individual within such an area makes a call or generates IP data, passive measures alert authorities. Repeated alerts from the same device can help investigators narrow the number of targets to actively query on a regular basis.
Rich location-based services give law enforcement better visibility into the behaviors of subjects of interest. Combining real-time and historic location data pairs tactical insight into events as they unfold with the ability to analyze target behaviors over time. Likewise, the ability to actively query and passively monitor a target’s location increases investigators’ ability to tailor lawful interception activities to the needs of a specific situation.
Offering the full range of such capabilities, SS8 delivers precise location information that satisfies even the most stringent regulatory mandates. More importantly, it helps fulfill the shared mission of SS8 and law enforcement officials to protect society and promote public safety and security.
About Michael Gebretsadik
SS8 provides Lawful Intelligence platforms. They work closely with leading intelligence agencies, communication providers, law enforcement agencies and standards bodies and their technology incorporates the methodologies discussed in this blog. Xcipio® is already proven to meet the very high demands of 5G and provides the ability to transcode (convert) between lawful intercept handover versions and standard families. Intellego® XT natively supports ETSI, 3GPP and CALEA handovers, as well as national variants. Intellego XT’s MetaHub component is a best-in-class data analytics tool. Both product portfolios are used worldwide for the capture, analysis and delivery of data for the purposes of criminal investigations.