Digital forensics remains one of the most dynamic advancements in investigations. Even in cases where individuals attempt to erase or destroy incriminating evidence on their phones, digital data extraction is overriding these efforts and changing the way evidence is collected and analyzed.
President of Black Swan Digital Forensics – a company that specializes in remote extraction of digital devices for evidence gathering – Jim Walker has taken the time to outline the ways in which digital data extraction is changing the United States justice system.
The Assistance Of Cell Service Providers In Criminal Cases
When federal investigators or prosecutors issue warrants to cell service providers, they do so in an effort to access text messages (primarily), as well as phone call logs, photos, location data, and timelines to assist them in cases.
The difficulty; however, is that the suspect can delete the most incriminating evidence. As such, Jim Walker explains investigators and prosecutors must rely on stored text message data retained by the cell service provider.
Investigators and prosecutors typically need far more than just a log of phone calls and texts. They are interested in the content of those messages. But for cell service providers to save text message content, they must bear the costs of data storage. Most wireless providers do not collect these text messages indefinitely. In fact, most providers intentionally lose the data after a few weeks.
This limits what investigators and prosecutors can access in an effort to gather relevant evidence from text messages. Therefore, criminal justice organizations have two options. They can pressure legislators to mandate laws that force cell service providers to retain the data longer (which would increase their operating costs), or they can use digital data extraction forensics tools to pull text message content, photos, and GPS data directly from the suspect’s phone.
Jim Walker notes that data extraction is the more viable option, as this data remains on the phone even after a suspect has manually deleted the data or disabled their smartphone. The resilience of cell and smartphone memory allows investigators to extract necessary evidence, the most important usually being the suspect’s text messages.
The Role Of Direct Digital Data Extraction In Criminal Justice
For the past 20 years, more and more key evidence is being stored within the cell and smartphones. This has proven critical in many homicide investigations, where the suspect’s text messages, pictures, and even GPS tracking have been logged and used as evidence. One homicide investigator testified that.
“One of the cases that comes to mind was being able to recover deleted messages off of a phone that was deleted intentionally by the suspect . . . we recovered not only pictures that were critical to the investigation as well as a week’s worth of text messages that were critical to a serious homicide investigation.”
Members of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Homeland Security have also noted that digital forensics (data extraction from digital devices which can then be submitted as evidence in a court of law) was key to successfully solving cases that might have otherwise gone unsolved.
Indeed, digital forensics is empowering investigators around the world. Black Swan Digital Forensics, under the leadership of Jim Walker, provides one of the most advanced tools in digital forensics with the remote extraction machine.
The Role Of Civil Liberties For Innocent Civilians
Naturally, many US law enforcement organizations are concerned about the privacy of innocent parties if data extraction devices are not regulated. Recently, the ACLU complained that the Michigan State Police were abusing their data extraction capabilities.
However, it is impossible for law enforcement officials to extract data without consent from the device owner or a warrant. Even with the latest tools in digital forensics, phone owners must physically surrender their phones in order for data extraction to take place.
The Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA)
The ECPA exists to protect innocent US citizens from unlawful surveillance and wiretapping in the fast-developing age of technological devices. Originally passed in 1986. “The statute bars wiretapping and electronic eavesdropping, possession of wiretapping or electronic eavesdropping equipment, and the use or disclosure of information unlawfully obtained through wiretapping or electronic eavesdropping.”
Naturally, the only exceptions to this law occur in matters where subjects grant consent (as in the case when law enforcement officers use data extraction devices) or when due process issues a warrant to obtain critical evidence in a criminal investigation.
Jim Walker is president of Black Swan Digital Forensics, a Memphis, Tennessee based company specializing in remote extraction of digital devices for investigations. Also, a decorated US Army veteran, Walker served as the Director of the Alabama Department of Homeland Security for eight years. Today, he lives with his family in the Chattanooga, Tennessee area.
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