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2015-05-07
Featured Article

Divorce Tips: Text Messages

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Tagged As: Divorce, How To, Legal, and Tips

What Is This

I am tired of the preponderance of divorce cases favoring mothers over fathers for no real reason other than social norm and outdated stereotypes. I would like to empower good fathers that face an uphill battle against deadbeat-dad stereotypes to have more information at their disposal prior meeting lawyers, mediating with spouses, walking into court, etc. This "Divorce Tips" series is simply written to raise awareness of issues you may face and potential options at your fingertips. Although written from a father's point of view and bias, there is no reason this article cannot aid a mother.

Legality

I am NOT a lawyer. All of the information in this article is from personal experience and/or anecdotal experience from others. I am not responsible for any of the decisions you choose to make nor am I responsible for the effects of those decisions. I strongly encourage you to consult with an attorney for advice about your local laws, local judicial precedent, and for their professional opinion.

Laws vary by state and municipality so before doing anything, always make sure your choice to pursue computer related surveillance in accordance with your country/state/city/town's legal framework. Nothing makes a divorce worse for you than breaking the law yourself and further enabling the other party.

Why Look

Having "proof" of another party's activities will not necessarily change much of the divorce equation. About the only situation where the information plays a role may be to prove adultery. Even in that situation, proving adultery might not alter custody, alimony, or property division at all. Before diving into how to collect communication evidence, you should really ask yourself what you hope to gain from the knowledge, whether the outcome is worth the effort, and if the benefit justifies the ramifications:

  • Emotional Closure: Sometimes divorce is difficult because its hard to believe that your partner's activities are real.
  • Legal Proof: Sometimes adultery or abandonment cases require proof in order to get a favorable outcome in lieu of waiting for a standard separation divorce. Be careful, however, in that depending on your local legal system, self-obtained evidence may be inadmissable.
  • Cost Reduction: Sometimes you can reduce the cost of your private investigator by pointing them towards an in progress transgression to reduce payments on stakeouts.
  • Other: There can be any number of reasons a person feels compelled to "know."

Extraction Options

There are a lot of options for getting a hold of text messages. Each comes with their own set of pros and cons that must be weighed by the context of your situation. Although "Follow Them" is listed for completeness, it's there for the sake of making you consider ramifications by comparison ... please do not do that.

Option Pro Con
Private Investigator Legal
Admissible Evidence
Expensive
Difficult to Succeed
Phone Company Legal
Admissible Evidence
Unlikely to get Data
Technology Save Money
Usually Legal
Data
Probably Inadmissible

While a Private Investigator (PI) is generally the best and most professional option at your disposal for obtaining information, when it comes to acquiring communications, your mileage-may-vary. In virtually every jurisdiction, a PI is required to be registered and licensed by the state through their local police department. Most of them are former police officers or detectives themselves. As such, you're virtually guaranteed their methods will be in accordance with the law. Another benefit to utilizing the PI route is admissibility. Despite their "bias" in that you're a paying customer, the core of their business requires them to be an unbiased, third party simply reporting observed facts which means most courts will accept their testimony. The disadvantage of a PI is their costs tend to be high. While through their professional experience they generally produce results, getting those results takes an unpredictable amount of time and a PI charges by the hour. Particularly with acquiring communications, third party [a PI] acquisitions of that data border towards the illegal end of the spectrum and they are not likely going to jeopardize their operating license. Most likely, the PI will pursue the phone company angle anyway.

When it comes to communications, acquiring them directly from the phone company is likely the best approach. In order to bill you every month, the company needs to keep a record of every users' calls, texts, and data consumption and maintain a historical archive of them. You can acquire this data through two basic means - calling customer service or having a subpoena issued.

  • Calling Customer Service : Generally speaking, while you should be able to acquire the data by simply asking for it, this method probably won't be very effective. In the old days, the providers literally put your entire call history on each monthly bill but those practices ended awhile ago. The customer support representative generally has no idea what you're talking about when you request billing records, the technical department doesn't want to turn them over, and supervisors get worried about legal implications. But occasionally just asking for them does work so it's worth a shot.
  • Issuing a Subpoena : While this method will probably work, bear in mind it will be slow. You'll end up going through the court system to compel the service provider to turn over the billing records which will be costly in lawyer fees, administrative overhead, waiting on legal processes, and waiting on the provider to respond.

The do-it-yourself route will probably result in inadmissible evidence by any tech savvy judge or tech savvy lawyer. Why? The "evidence" is digital which can be manipulated by nothing more than Windows Notepad and there is no chain of custody surrounding it to ensure what was gathered is what is presented. That said, there is a chance that it could be admissible in a less contested case because in many situations, there are not many options for proving adultery charges when one party denies it. Sometimes courts are simply looking for plausible "motivation and opportunity" and will accept several weaker forms of evidence that corroborate the larger situation. But there is no guarantee that situation will apply to you.

How To Do It - The Easy Way

You can ... simply pick up their phone. In many cases, missed text messages simply show up even with a locked screen. In many other cases, the cheating spouse has forgotten to actually lock their phone and you can simply click on the text messaging application.

How To Do It - Apple iPhone

Fortunately, the iPhone backs up just about everything to iTunes in order to facilitate a device restoration. Even better, a lot of iPhones can be remotely backed up simply by opening iTunes, choosing the device, and clicking on the appropriate backup option. All you need to understand is how to find the file containing the iPhone's SMS history on the computer. Each of the many files in the backup is a SQLite database and they represent all the backend data the iPhone uses for the many system and user-install applications. You want the file named 3d0d7e5fb2ce288813306e4d4636395e047a3d28. Install a a SQLite binary and load the file into it for a few simple queries. If you don't know where to locate the database file, use a search and make a copy to a working location.


user@hostname:~$ find ~ -name 3d0d7e5fb2ce288813306e4d4636395e047a3d28

/Users/ANON/Library/Application Support/MobileSync/Backup/
1d5d83f8ff450d56123e5f3d29ed5402f45f321e/3d0d7e5fb2ce288813306e4d4636395e047a3d28

user@hostname:~$ cp '/Users/ANON/Library/Application Support/MobileSync/Backup
/1d5d83f8ff450d56123e5f3d29ed5402f45f321e/3d0d7e5fb2ce288813306e4d4636395e047a3d28' /tmp

ANON@hostname:~$ sqlite3 /tmp/3d0d7e5fb2ce288813306e4d4636395e047a3d28

After loading the file, you'll interact with SQLite from it's native interface.


SQLite version 3.19.3 2017-06-27 16:48:08
Enter ".help" for usage hints.
sqlite> 

Two normalized tables must be joined together to present the information. You need the message table which contains the actual SMS content and the handle table which contains the phone numbers. Trim your output down by searching against the phone number of the other illicit party - in my case it was (XXX) 279-8096 - a phone they liked to jokingly call his "girlfriend phone." When you're finished perusing the content, simply type .quit to exit the SQLite interface.


.mode line
SELECT h.id, 
        m.service, 
        is_from_me AS origin, 
        datetime(m.date + 978307200, 'unixepoch') AS timestamp, 
        m.text 
FROM message m 
JOIN handle h 
ON m.handle_id = h.rowid 
WHERE h.id = '+1XXX2798096' 
ORDER BY m.date;

What does this query do? The SELECT line identifies 5 fields of interest.

  • The h.id field represents the phone number.
  • The m.service field indicates whether the message was an SMS or MMS.
  • The is_from_me field will display a 0 if the message is to the cheater or a 1 if it is from the cheater.
  • The m.date field is married to the message's transmit or receipt time. NOTE: You must modify the message's timestamp which is stored based on Apple's January 1, 2001 origin date in order to display properly with SQLite which is based on the UNIX epoch. Just add the difference - 978307200.
  • The m.text field includes the actual content.

What does the output look like? Before you look, be very aware of the unintended side effects.

Unintended Side Effects

As mentioned earlier, there are more ramifications to this type of information than simply "knowing the truth." Although this data could facilitate the requested proof of opportunity for infidelity, the details actually reveal much more and that information can be difficult to handle. For example, obtaining this data revealed more than just the spouse's activities because it includes the words/intent of the other individual they are cheating with.

It's infuriating to read how your spouse might choose "not to work" and simply milk alimony or child support and spend your money with another man.


       id = +1XXX2798096
  service = SMS
   origin = 1
timestamp = 2014-10-26 21:10:13
     text = Maybe I'll just say "screw full time work", let you support me and be your 
            "adventure concubine". I'm thinking that's the most solid plan I've come up 
            with in days!

It's infuriating to read another man talking to your spouse about how they intend to raise your daughter.


       id = +1XXX2798096
  service = SMS
   origin = 0
timestamp = 2014-11-13 22:13:45
     text = i will do my very best to be the best role model and father figure for 
            *name REDACTED* when she is ith us. i do not want to take anything away 
            from *REDACTED* only to be positive and loving to you and *REDACTED*. 
            we will have a fun life together. we understand what life requires to make 
            that happen. i'm holding you so close to me right now. fingers interlocked. 

It's one thing to know that infidelity is happening, but it's entirely different to know how it's happening and the third order effects of those activities. A person simply cannot really be prepared for how such knowledge will impact you until it is revealed.

  • Be prepared to deal with the emotional impact of the full revelation from what you discover - about the activities themselves, about who the subject reveals themselves to be, and about yourself for gathering the information.
  • Be prepared for the subject to lie to your face every single day about where they were, who they talked to, and what they were doing during the data collection phase.
  • Be prepared to pretend you do not know (because as per any intelligence operation, if you reveal what you know too early, you compromise your source).
  • Be prepared to handle the backlash when your knowledge becomes apparent to the other party.

That last bullet is an important point to consider. If the point of collecting this evidence is to make a case with it, or to prove some point, that directly implies the subject will be made acutely aware they were under surveillance. Even if that subject understands why it happened, there is no human being that reacts well to discovering 1) they've actually been under surveillance and 2) that their lies have been completely exposed. Although you are feeling vindicated for discovering a lie, the opposite party now feels an egregious violation of their privacy and will likely respond in kind. You must be prepared for a highly negative response when the "fact of" their communication history is revealed.

Counter-Intelligence

I am not interested in helping a spouse engaged with infidelity to hide from surveillance. However, divorce cases can get ugly quickly and even the "guilty" party can take actions against the other. Keep in mind that any surveillance you conduct, could be conducted against you as well - not to build a case of infidelity but perhaps to build a case to discredit you in other fashions. That data could be used to show that as a father you work too much. Maybe your friends and coworkers send 'bro' messages or encourage bad behavior that can be construed as reality in a court. Your texting history with others could be twisted to make a stronger case for the mother to take custody. SMS can be used for more than just proving opportunity for infidelity.

Countering SMS interception can be tricky but the first steps are simply to know-the-technology, know-your-phone, and know-your-opponent. You don't need to discover your SMS history in their hands. People make mistakes all of the time that reveal their activities. Browse the command history on home computers looking for searches against phone databases and evidence of unusual software (like sqlite binaries). Look in the browser history for websites related to text message recovery. Contact the telecommunications provider and ask about inquiries logged in your account profile. Remember to cover all those bases yourself if you engage in doing this on your own.

  • Change your phone's security code.
  • Keep your phone locked.
  • Disable backups to iTunes.
  • Destroy all existing iTunes backups.
  • Maintain your copies of the 3d0d7e5fb2ce288813306e4d4636395e047a3d28 database on a privately controlled computer.

If you discover all of your texts being collected, remember that you were planning the same thing. Blowing your stack about an invasion of privacy or a demonstrated lack of trust is purely hypocritical. Furthermore, the argumentative tone will be used against you if anyone witnesses it. Just quietly delete their repository of data and pretend you never knew.

Conclusion

The decision to obtain a history of communications should not be made lightly. It needs to be done in accordance with your local laws and with due regard whether the data will serve a valuable purpose. Above everything else, consult your attorney and ask your local police.



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