Lebanon News

Expert witness acknowledges holes in cell data

BEIRUT: Defense counselor Natalie von Wistinghausen focused on potential holes in cellular data used in the prosecution’s case at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon Thursday in her cross-examination of expert witness John Edward Philips. Wistinghausen contended that cellular service coverage maps provided by Lebanese cellular networks MTC touch and Alfa in the early 2000s did not match Beirut’s terrain in the 2010 maps used by the expert witness.

While Philips said the particular concern raised by Wistinghausen would not have an impact on his analysis, though he later acknowledged that data provided by the cellular networks had been unreliable.

“The buildings have a factor [in coverage], but if the new buildings unbalance the cell capacity of a certain area, that can be modified [by the network] ... it won’t be such that one particular cell site will take 90 percent of cell coverage of adjacent cell sites,” Phillips said, dismissing the suggestion that change in the urban terrain of the city would have a large impact on cellular coverage.

“If certain buildings are demolished, or built to increase or decrease potential best server coverage of one cell, by definition, one cell has to increase or decrease the same amount.”

Later in the session, Wistinghausen queried the credibility of the witness, highlighting the minimal information about the case provided to Phillips before making his analysis and a lack of data provided to him by cellular network companies.

“What is in our own definition of being an expert and how you would describe the information you need in accurately doing the analysis ... how would you describe the information provided to you as an expert in the [United Kingdom] in other trials?” Wistinghausen asked.

While Philips did not respond to this query specifically in this session, he stated previously that having access to the data separate from the broader context of the investigation ensured objectivity in his analysis.

Regarding possible holes in cellular data, Philips responded that he had previously reported these issues to the STL before his analysis.

“What I did prior to actual analysis, [was] say how the data I had been provided with on best server analysis will impact what I had. And I qualified that [the data] were not ideal ... what limitations I had to work with and what impact they could have on my subsequent findings,” he said.

The five indicted for the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri are being tried in absentia, making cellular data a main element in the prosecution’s case.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 05, 2017, on page 2.




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