An Introduction to Digital Forensics in Criminal Law

Digital Forensics in Criminal Law

As data breaches and leaks continue to dominate headlines, cybersecurity and IT law shifts to adapt to the needs of consumers and businesses alike. However, while hacks of high-profile companies like Yahoo and Sony may be more widely reported, digital forensics is an important part of many routine criminal proceedings, right now.

While much of the attention in the news focuses on large-scale corporate hacks or election meddling, as criminal lawyers in Springfield, we frequently are presented with digital forensics used as evidence in our cases. Particularly, when it comes to sex crimes and criminal tax cases.

Just across the street from our office in Springfield, Missouri, BKD, an accounting firm provides digital forensics services.

The U.S. government already utilizes digital forensic analysts in criminal law proceedings to collect evidence used in many child pornography distribution and possession cases. Groups like the Missouri State Highway Patrol and the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Missouri will engage third parties like the Heart of America Regional Computer Forensics Laboratory to aid in their case development. The FBI has even hired Best Buy’s Geek Squad as informants to proactively search computers for illicit material hidden within a computer’s files.

We recently discussed new sentencing guidelines in child pornography cases that have been adjusted with new language to better provide justice in a changing digital landscape. Many child pornography distribution cases revolve around the use of a peer-to-peer download software such as Limewire, FrostWire, Ares, or BitTorrent. Subtle differences in usage behavior may mean large differences in how sentencing guidelines are applied following the adoption of a new amendment to the United States Sentencing Guidelines.

Close to home in Arkansas, you’ve undoubtedly heard about the case involving Amazon’s voice-activated Echo device that is being sought in a murder investigation. With digital forensics in criminal law at the heart of the case, the story made national headlines. Recently, Amazon has denied the request to turn over the device’s data claiming First Amendment protection.

“At the heart of that First Amendment protection is the right to browse and purchase expressive materials anonymously, without fear of government discovery,” said Amazon, adding that Echo voice records could reveal information about a person’s health or political views,” said Amazon in a new filing.

As technology adoption continues to expand swiftly, the possible uses in criminal court cases are vast.

Learn more about key legislation involving digital forensics, cases solved with digital forensics, and more from Maryville University’s Cybersecurity Program, who created the resource featured in this post. The infographic below is a good introduction to digital forensics in criminal law.

Everyday consumers are often targeted by cybercrime. As our lives become increasingly digital, it’s not hard to imagine why. Everything from online harassment to financial crimes, sex crimes, drug trafficking, and terrorism can be conducted online. As a result, it is lawmakers’ duty to create and enforce laws for businesses to abide by for the protection of consumers. But how do lawmakers and businesses keep up with cybercrime to prevent it in the future?

The answer comes in the burgeoning field of digital forensics, which is defined as the process used to extract, preserve, analyze, and present electronic evidence. While this process is often used to assist civil and criminal investigations related to cybercrime, what we learn through the process of digital forensics — such as vulnerabilities, exploits, and so on — provide crucial insight for the advancement of cybersecurity.

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Author CCM Updates

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