Mobile Device Forensics Guidelines Play Key Role in Supreme Court’s Smartphone Evidence Warrant Decision
With smartphones playing an ever increasing part in the lifestyles of so many people in today’s technology driven world, the amount of private information they can contain can be staggering, from the uninteresting and mundane, to the potentially embarrassing or even incriminating. On the heels of the Supreme Court decision to require a warrant before law enforcement can search an individual’s smartphone, Joe Caruso, founder and CEO/CTO of Global Digital Forensics, discusses some types of information smartphones can contain and why it is so important for attorneys to know how to navigate the world of digital devices, or bring in someone who does.
SCOTUS Reaches Desicion on Warrants for Smartphones
“As reported in this July 1st article by NIST (the National Institute of Standards and Technology), the June 25th, 2014 Supreme Court ruling in Riley v California shook up the electronic discovery world. It was also met with both cheers and jeers when the verdict was finally in, depending on whether it was seen from an individual privacy perspective, or a law enforcement perspective, respectively. But this much is fact, there is now precedent which will require law enforcement officials to obtain a warrant before being allowed to sift through information on someone’s smartphone, which up until now has been fair game when an arrest took place. “It was a long time coming,” said Joe Caruso, founder and CEO/CTO of Global Digital Forensics (GDF) , “digital devices like smartphones today can have computing power which rivals what military supercomputers had under the hood just 15-20 years ago. Couple that with storage capacity that could fill the beds of several pickup trucks with documents if printed out, and the apps and Internet capability that so many people rely on every day to do everything from work and looking things up, to taking and sharing pictures, video and private correspondence, and it was only a matter of time before the privacy concerns posed by smartphones and other digital devices and an individual’s Fourth Amendment rights were going to face off.”
History and technology butt heads
Existing precedent is obviously rooted in the past, but it’s not always easy drawing dots and the connecting lines between historical precedent and today’s technologies. Michael P. Reynolds, JD, an attorney who specializes in the technology field and has served as consulting counsel for Global Digital Forensics on many occasions, recently published an opinion titled, Warrantless Searches of Smartphones Limited: Historical Principles Applied in the Digital Age , in which he calls the Supreme Court’s decision a “watershed moment,” and tries to help connect some of the dots that have now been added to the board. He also sums up the crux of the SCOTUS decision in his closing by warning, “Crafting a reasoned and methodical approach to discovery with the assistance of legal and computer professionals is the key to staying on the right side of any discovery trend, from the Supreme Court of the United States, to a Night Court near you.”
Keeping an eye on the ball
“The ediscovery process always continues to evolve because of the speed with which technology roars forward, but that doesn’t mean attorneys, or the courts for that matter, are always seeing things from a cutting edge perspective,” Caruso said. “ It’s not easy staying current on every technology, or the latest digital forensics tools and processes, especially when that’s not even your main field of expertise. But it is our field of expertise, so we do. And that’s why the courts don’t tend to take excuses from litigants, and especially from their counsel, when it comes to eDiscovery. There is expert help out there, and if an attorney isn’t well versed enough in the ins-and-outs of every bit of technology involved and how to correctly identify, acquire, analyze and produce every bit of relevant data necessary and/or requested for the case, they are compelled to get expert outside help like we provide. And if they don’t, their future will not be filled with good things once the judge gets through with them.”
Smartphones and other digital devices can hold a wealth of evidence
“Let’s forget for a second all the information people purposely store on their smartphones and digital devices, phone numbers, pictures, favorite websites, texts, emails, contact addresses and so on. While that kind of information could prove invaluable during litigation to prove or disprove a case, often it’s the information the user doesn’t know the device stored that proves to be the smoking gun. We’ve been called in as digital forensics and technology experts on countless civil and criminal cases across the country, and we’ve delivered more than our fair share of digital smoking guns that counsel on the case was not even aware existed until we fished it out,” said Caruso. “For example, we assisted in a child pornography case where we not only found the incriminating photos which the suspect tried to delete and destroy, but we also acquired metadata (data about data) on the photos which that particular device stored with geo-location tracking information. So not only could the attorney produce the photos the suspect was convinced he had thoroughly destroyed, but he could also build a timeline of when the photos were taken, and map the locations they were taken in down to the building. After that, the rest was a cakewalk. Digital forensics and eDiscovery often make or break cases today, and that’s why the unanimous opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts cited NIST’s Guidelines on Mobile Forensics three times, and it’s also why getting a digital forensics expert involved early in the process is more important today than ever before.”
Don’t delay in getting expert help when evidence goes digital
*Global Digital Forensics is a recognized leader providing cutting edge solutions in the fields of computer forensics, eDiscovery, cyber security and emergency incident response. GDF is strategically positioned with resources across the country and the globe to react quickly and efficiently with a staff of highly qualified and experienced specialists. Many Fortune 500 companies have trusted GDF with their most sensitive situations. GDF has the technology, skill and experience to ensure any computer forensics tasks and/or eDiscovery needs are handled in a highly cost effective manner, while always ensuring exceptional, defensible results. To speak with a GDF evidence specialist about a plan to suit your unique needs, call 1-800-868-8189. The call and the initial consultation are free. For more information, visit our eDiscovery page.