Nowadays, pretty much everyone has access to and uses electronic devices to communicate and complete tasks. As a result, some of the most important evidence that might be used in a legal investigation often consists of electronic data, including text messages, computer files, and phone records.
However, it can be difficult to compile and preserve electronic data. Electronic evidence is highly vulnerable to alteration, deletion, and theft if it is not securely stored and properly preserved. Mismanagement of digital data could potentially lead to the destruction of your case.
Here is what you need to know about preserving electronic evidence.
As electronic evidence can be particularly difficult to maintain and preserve, you should be aware of the methods that you can use to ensure that important evidence is not lost or destroyed.
Part of your preservation practices should include issuing a litigation hold to anyone and everyone whose devices, such as smartphones or computers, may contain crucial evidence.
Essentially, a litigation hold is a letter that you send to these people which instructs them not to delete, alter, or destroy any electronic data that relates to the legal matter at hand. The instructions in the letter should be concise and clear so that the recipients are able to fully understand the purpose of the letter. Recipients should also be instructed to sign the letter as proof of receipt.
Chain of Custody
Establishing a clear chain of custody is incredibly important when dealing with electronic evidence that can easily be altered or destroyed, be it accidentally or purposefully.
A chain of custody demonstrates what items have been collected, who has had access to them, and who has directly handled them. You should document the location and condition of all electronic evidence before handling it and restrict access to experienced IT personnel and those with experience in digital forensics.
Electronic evidence is extremely vulnerable and easy to manipulate, so it is crucial that you maintain updated records that show a clear chain of custody.
Finally, it is important to properly organize all electronic evidence.
All files, communication records, photos, and other evidence should be properly categorized, tagged, and separated. Files should be easy to find and follow clear naming conventions. Everything should also be stored in a secure location with effective security measures to prevent individuals from accessing the evidence without permission.
Additionally, you may consider replicating all evidence and storing it on a separate device. Copying all items onto a flash drive, separate computer, or external hard drive will help preserve evidence in the event that the original evidence is destroyed.