Digital Evidence and Legal Proceedings

When it comes to submitting digital evidence for use in a trial, the same levels of care need to be applied as with non-digital evidence.

Crime is a part of human life and, for a crime to be resolved, investigators have to reconstruct the crime scene and analyse the actions of both the suspect and the victim so that any evidence can be identified and used to support and legal proceedings.

As technology has evolved, criminals are now able to use new methods to commit traditional crimes and develop new types of crimes. Crimes committed through the use of technology still require the same principles of investigation, though the scene can now be a virtual environment that must be secured and examined as digital evidence.

Digital evidence is information or data of an evidential value that is stored on or transmitted by a computer or digital device and can be defined as follows:

‘Any data stored or transmitted using a computer that support or refute a theory of how an offense occurred or that address critical elements of the offense such as intent or alibi’ (Casey, E., Dunne, R. (2004) Digital Evidence and Computer Crime Forensic Science, Computers and the Internet. St. Louis: Academic Press).

A wider array of devices are capable of holding larger amounts of data and digital evidence can be found on an increasing number of types of storage media, including, computer hard drives, mobile phones and removable media such as memory cards.

As an expert witness and Digital Forensic Consultant I am finding that digital evidence is becoming more prevalent within a wider range of both criminal and civil cases including murder, unlawful images, child care cases, commercial and employment disputes. These cases can require the examination of evidence to determine whether it had been used to commit or facilitate a crime as well as to identify supportive material for either side of a legal case.

In order for digital evidence to be admissible in court a number of criteria must be met, including, ensuring that the evidence has not been altered and that an auditable trail has been kept relating to the storage and investigation of the evidential device or media. The key points of the handling and investigation of digital evidence is provided as follows:

Actions taken to secure and collect digital evidence should not affect the integrity of that evidence;
Persons conducting an examination of digital evidence should be trained for that purpose;
Activity relating to the seizure, examination, storage, or transfer of digital evidence should be documented, preserved, and available for review.

(U.S. Department of Justice (2004) Forensic Examination of Digital Evidence: A Guide for Law Enforcement, Washington).

The nature of digital devices therefore makes them particularly susceptible to damage or corruption. Due to the constant requirement for devices to be physically smaller in size yet bigger in capacity, the components become ever smaller and more delicate, therefore, even storing the devices in an unsuitable environment can cause the corruption and loss of some or all of the data present.

Therefore, to ensure its integrity, a ‘chain of custody’ relating to the evidence should be established. This usually amounts to a paper trail detailing the whereabouts of all evidential sources during custody, along with the details of individuals having access to it, when and any actions taken with it. This, along with a comparison and review of the digital media itself should allow for the acceptance by an independent examiner that a given item of media has not been corrupted or compromised following seizure.

As the level of understanding of the operation of computers and mobile phones has developed within legal cases, those investigating cases involving digital evidence have a better awareness of the methods of seizure and handling. Previously it was not uncommon to find cases where the digital evidence had been switched on and operated by a ‘curious’ investigating officer to ‘see what was there’.

Thankfully, far greater emphasis is now placed on audit trails and storing the evidence correctly and, today, such activity by untrained individuals is now rare. The adherence to computer evidence guidelines is crucial to ensuring that the evidence considered is all that was available and basing an examination on flawed evidence that is only partially complete.

As a forensic investigator, I was recently involved in a case that highlights the importance of ensuring the completeness of digital evidence. The case involved an unemployed middle-aged man who lived on his own and kept himself to himself, though, used his computer to talk to other people within chat rooms.

He had been in contact with one of his online friends via a chat room for eight months before they asked for him to do them a favour and cash a cheque that their elderly mother was unable to do. His expenses were to be covered and he saw no problem with then transferring the money to the mother’s account. Unfortunately, he did not even think that the cheque could be fraudulent until he found himself in a police station and being interviewed on suspicion of attempting to cash a fraudulent cheque.

He provided police with his version of events; fortunately, they had also seized his home computer. They examined the computer and found evidence to indicate that the defendant had been in contact with the individual, yet found no evidence to support the origins of the cheque or the story behind it. He was subsequently charged with fraud and was due to appear for trial at Crown Court.

Given the partial evidence identified by the police, the defendant’s solicitors understood the situation sufficiently to know that a second opinion should be conducted of the computer hard drive to determine whether the evidence of any chat logs could be found on the computer.

It was only after a careful review of the deleted areas of the hard drive, along with the use of data recovery software that chat log activity was identified that supported the defendant’s version of events. The log proved that the defendant and his friend had conversed on a number of occasions and it also confirmed the origins of the cheque. After months of investigation, after the identification of this evidence, the case was dropped on the morning of the trial.

Had the computer evidence not been sufficiently protected and secured following seizure and the data present altered in any way, whether it be by use of the hard drive or improper handling of the drive, the relatively small piece of crucial evidence may have been lost and the defendant’s version of events could not have been supported.

During the examination process of digital evidence it is standard procedure for the evidence to be connected to a suitable system using write protecting hardware so that no alteration or access to the original device is possible.

Due to the volatility of digital evidence it is best practise to take a forensic ‘image’ of the hard drive or storage device that consists of an exact byte-by-byte copy of all data and space, both live files and deleted information, which is present on the device. This forensic image then forms the basis of the investigation and analysis and the original exhibit can then be securely stored.

At the start of the forensic copying process, the device is assigned an acquisition hash value (most commonly an MD5 hash value). Once the evidence has been forensically acquired (imaged, similar to copied) the evidence is assigned a verification hash value.

Currently, it is believed that the hash value mechanism indicates that the acquired evidence is a complete and accurate copy of the data contained on the original device and that if the acquisition and verification hash values match then no alteration of the evidence can have taken place.

Various types of hash value exist, including, HAVAL, MD5 and SHA. The forensic arena has adopted the MD5 hash as a method of proving that one file is identical to another or an item of digital evidence has not been altered since its original acquisition. The MD5 hash value was developed from 1991 by Professor Ronald L. Rivest.

As the MD5 algorithm is based on a 128-byte data block, it would appear that there is the possibility that the data on an item of digital media could be manipulated, yet the MD5 hash value not be altered. Given this, I am currently undertaking research to attempt to verify whether an item of digital evidence can be altered without changing its MD5 hash value.

This will enable the adoption of a technique to allow for the alteration of digital evidence without changes to the assigned hash value. The result of this research may be that it is possible to alter an item of digital evidence sufficiently to make the current hashing techniques unreliable in court.

Degree in Criminal Justice

People who graduate with a degree in criminal justice are equipped to perform all sorts of public services. Many of these related careers are exciting and come with lots of responsibilities and rewards. At times, however, these jobs can be both dangerous and stressful. These degrees are classified as a major in the social sciences. This is because the nature of criminal justice is to explain the patterns of criminal behavior and to decipher society’s ability to control crime and criminals. It is all about choosing the correct steps to achieve justice and ensure the quality of life and safety of civilians. If you decide to earn a degree in this field you will be studying many different topics, including: sociology, legal studies, psychology, political science, forensic science, urban studies, public administration, and philosophy. A major or degree in criminal justice is designed to focus on the defining factors, causes, and preventative measures related to crime in modern society; it also focuses on practical legal measures needed.

These majors learn, in great detail, about the legal and correctional systems in the United States. They study the philosophy of punishment, and the ethical codes of behavior that are used by society in the application of this studiously gained knowledge. Graduates granted degrees are prepared for careers in law enforcement, victim services, court administration, corrections, and to begin furthering their degrees in law school or graduate programs.

Study programs for criminal behavior and law enforcement are becoming increasingly sophisticated. Professionals who work in modern police forces, correctional facilities, court systems, and related criminal justice agencies are expected to have a broad, well-rounded knowledge of the social sciences. As American law grows increasingly complex, society demands more from its criminal justice professionals (and students). The standard of education for these people is higher today than ever before and the bar is only going to become continually higher.

That being said, criminal justice is an important, meaningful, and exciting career and anyone interested in pursuing such a career should be encouraged to check out the many wonderful opportunities for study both in American universities and with more flexible online or community-based programs. There is so much a person can do with a criminal justice degree and it is a field will only continue to grow with technology and other modern advancements.

There are a wide variety of College Criminal Justice jobs available to those seeking them; this is a field with high job security and very high career advancement opportunity.

Mesothelioma Lawyers – Your Key to Justice and Compensation

Mesothelioma, otherwise known as asbestos poisoning is a serious aftereffect that results from prolonged exposure to asbestos. Individuals that expose themselves to asbestos may not be aware of the poisoning that is taking place in their system and hence will see sudden disastrous effects in their body, particularly on the lungs. Certain cases of mesothelioma have seen to spread to the heart as well as tunica vaginalis. What most people do not know is that mesothelioma is a carcinogen and can often be neglected as it has no early dysfunctions. As time goes on, an individual may suffer from bronchitis which will adversely lead to cancer. It has been noticed that people who suffer from mesothelioma are individuals that have been exposed to asbestos without the necessary precautions. In most cases, this has been the fault of negligence and irresponsible behavior that asbestos industries exhibit. If you are a victim of asbestos poisoning, you can take the first step and press for charges by electing a Mesothelioma Lawyer to help you out.

Mesothelioma Lawyers are well versed with the legal proceedings that are involved with personal injury cases. Most of the top personal injury law firms that deal with Mesothelioma cases have been known to provide impeccable legal assistance due to their many years of experience in the field. If you are one of the many victims of asbestosis, it would be high time that you opt for a Mesothelioma Lawyer to help you out. It is understandable that you may not have the courage or energy to press for charges due to the circumstances of the events that have unfolded in your life, but if you believe that justice needs to be served, it is highly advised to go on a legal route. The best of Mesothelioma Lawyers will not only help you take your matter to court, but they will ensure that justice will prevail as you desire. Irresponsible companies and industries should be sued so that others do not fall prey to the same problem. Hence, it is highly advised that you put your best foot forward and find the best of Mesothelioma Lawyers to take your case to court.

One of the biggest challenges that has been noticed among a lot of victims like yourself, is that they are not able to find a Mesothelioma Lawyer in their local area. This is where the internet comes in and provides a platform for you to find local Mesothelioma Lawyers and Personal Injury law firms. While opting for Mesothelioma Lawyers, it is highly advised that you scout the web well so that you can find an attorney that has the best of relevant experience in handling personal injury cases and one that can guarantee you that justice will be served.

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