The Role of Digital Forensics in Legal Research
This article is a featured guest post from Grace Lau, Director of Growth Content at Dialpad.
Legal research is a complex process in the digital world. It was already a demanding activity before the dawn of the information age. It now requires some specific expertise. That comes from the field of digital forensics.
Firms that don’t fully embrace digital forensics will be left behind. It’s a must for those that wish to modernize.
What is digital forensics?
Digital forensics is the process of collecting evidence stored on a computer. Computer, in this instance, means any device that stores data digitally. This covers everything including laptops, smartphones, servers, and smartwatches; the list goes on. In the world of “the internet of things”, even a refrigerator could hold digital evidence.
There’s a strict process for gathering and handling physical evidence. This applies equally to digital evidence. It must be processed correctly, whether it be a civil matter or a criminal one. Failing to do so could jeopardize any court proceedings following legal research. Therefore, digital forensics professionals must adhere to the following 5-step process.
This step is about locating evidence and discovering where it’s stored. This isn’t as simple as it sounds. In the case of digital evidence, data could be stored directly on a device or in the cloud. In some cases, it may require recovery from outdated hardware in bad shape.
Once evidence has been identified, it must be preserved. This entails securing data and any associated devices. This step is key to ensuring evidence isn’t tampered with.
During this step, digital forensics experts trawl through the data, trying to piece together a narrative that shows wrongdoing. Viewers of TV crime scene investigation shows will have some idea of what’s going on here, likely picturing a pin board with lots of red string. These days, investigators are more likely to use tools such as a digital whiteboard app.
In this instance, the device or hardware is the crime scene. Investigators may need to look at the evidence several times and in great detail, which means that this step can take time. They go to this effort to fully comprehend the events.
As the picture becomes clearer, investigators must document their findings. This is crucial to understand what has occurred. Moreover, it helps in the decision-making of legal researchers. It’s also vital information for building a case that goes to court and can be referenced later to build the strongest case.
This step is the culmination of the process. Digital forensics investigators must produce a report to spell out what has been discovered. It will include all major evidence and sum up the conclusions of the investigation.
Who conducts digital forensics investigations?
The field of digital forensics is mainly applied in law enforcement. Evidence gathered is used to seek convictions for criminal activity. Moreover, it’s not just white-collar crime; digital evidence can prove motive and opportunity when applied to violent crime.
It’s also often utilized in civil matters. In securities litigation, for example, it can be very helpful. Digital forensics can be used to uncover hidden assets.
Having said that, digital forensics isn’t exclusive to the legal world. Businesses can sometimes make use of it. For example, it can be part of their response should they fall victim to cybercrime to investigate how and where a breach occurred. Then they’ll use the evidence to make changes that bolster their digital security.
What’s its role in legal research?
Legal research is the process of figuring out how the law applies in any given case. Legal professionals research regulations, statutes, and legal opinions to do this. The purpose is to guide decision-making around the case. In many cases, it’s necessary for legal researchers to work closely with digital forensics experts.
What are the facts?
This is where digital forensics comes in. In order to establish the facts, evidence is needed. That evidence must be gathered and processed in the correct way.
There’s so much activity taking place through digital means nowadays. People use devices in all aspects of their lives. Many of them post information on social media, leaving breadcrumbs (maybe “cookie crumbs” is a better phrase) all over the internet.
For example, when someone googles “proposal professional services”, they leave a trace, as is evidenced by the fact they’ll receive ads for such services on an ongoing basis. Tracing the online activity of a suspected criminal or potential civil defendant by following that trail of crumbs can uncover crucial evidence that is needed to prove the facts of the case. This is why digital forensics expertise is so necessary.
What are the legal ramifications?
Legal researchers must take the established facts and cross-reference them with the law. They’re looking for instances where the alleged activities are provably illegal or give rise to underlying causes of action for a civil complaint. The final report provided by digital forensics investigators is useful here. Legal researchers will also find the accompanying documentation helpful.
The increasing complexity of digital forensics
The role of digital forensics in legal research will only become more crucial. Data trends are increasing complexity and with the rise of cloud computing, jurisdictional issues can arise. Data centers can be located anywhere in the world, and legal research relies on digital forensics in the ever-evolving technological world.
Guest Author Bio:
Grace Lau is the Director of Growth Content at Dialpad, a secure video conferencing service provider and AI-powered cloud communication platform for better and easier team collaboration. She has over 10 years of experience in content writing and strategy. Currently, she is responsible for leading branded and editorial content strategies, partnering with SEO and Ops teams to build and nurture content. Grace has written for domains such as Get Product Key and DigitalMarketer. Here is her LinkedIn.