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Interpreting Digital Forensics: Five things you should know about Digital Forensics in 2020

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Kendall Platt from Forensic Access discusses digital forensics and how legal professionals can maximise evidence in their cases

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With mobile device ownership in the UK at a high, digital forensics is intrinsic to our justice system. Increased demand has caused a backlog of digital devices awaiting forensic imaging. Police experts address this by prioritising certain cases, which means digital evidence may not be available as your court date approaches. As digital forensics is expected to exhibit a growth of 12.3% CAGR until 2025, the below points will help you navigate the current environment and meet demand.

All cases have a digital element

Whilst some cases don’t center around a digital element, phone location services and other related activity are a valuable asset. Access to this information can influence the outcome of a case. Given the ever-growing trend for perpetrators to film criminal activity (e.g. animal abuse and sexual crimes), discovering the presence or absence of footage and any location information guarantees the adequate advising of your client in advance of trial.

Expertise vs Capable Amateur

Digital technicians are competent at extracting the data from exhibits, yet they are not always inclined towards the ‘how’ and ‘why’. Solicitors are often provided large amounts of technical detail with little explanation of how it assists their case. Meanwhile, a forensic expert will interrogate the data while considering the context of the case. This includes whether it has happened before. Crucially, an expert will produce a court ready report whilst being experienced at providing evidence at trial.

Not the whole picture

Time and budget constraints limit the number of digital exhibits imaged. Of those examined, cursory investigation is carried out on 20-40% of exhibits. For location data this means a limited timeline being provided. When extrapolated, this data is misleading of the user’s normal phone usage. Ensuring an extended period is digitally recovered provides a more accurate representation of the client’s normal behaviour.

Secure to Ensure

Your client’s digital device may not have originally been seized by the police. If you believe there is something that could assist your client it should be secured as soon as possible. Forensic imaging of the device by a trained individual is essential and will prevent data loss. Remember digital evidence is fragile; data can be changed by careless access.

Streamlined Forensic Reports (SFRs)

SFRs were developed to shorten delays in the criminal justice system. In digital cases they can be short on evidence and contain misleading explanations or conclusions. For more information on SFRs, I recommend reading Prof Angela Gallop’s article “Quality Compromised is Justice Denied”.

 

It’s clear that the quality and integrity of a digital forensic expert cannot be taken lightly. An expert’s place in securing and analysing the forensic information has always been important. With the high demand on services and reliance on SFRs, experts need to provide more; digital forensic experts ought to serve in an advisory role. They can identify aspects of the case that may have been missed and interpret the data in accordance to the context. Sourcing the right expert has never been more important.

 

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