Understanding Digital Forensics & How It’s Used By Private Investigators

When did Digital Forensics Start?

It was over 35 years ago back in 1984 when investigators and officers first started looking into the field that we now know as digital forensics. However, it was not until the 1990s that forensic technicians were able to use computers to develop and perfect the various systems that are used today within the field.

Although digital forensics has clearly been around for some time now, it is still only relatively new to private investigators. That being said, its uptake is increasing rapidly with many private investigators possessing a passion for new and cutting edge investigative approaches and techniques for the purpose of both surveillance and research. Private investigators offer a wide variety of services including accident investigation, fire investigation, and more. It is at digital forensics that the two separate elements of surveillance and research collide with one another. 

In this article we will take a detailed look at what to expect from an investigation where digital forensics is used and give a short explanation on how a private investigator might use it when performing their own investigation or when doing research. Although it is not a new thing, there are lots of questions surrounding private investigator digital forensics use and the ethics associated with using it for the purpose of a private investigation.

Digital devices

During the process of learning how to become a computer forensics investigator or forensic investigator most will learn how to deal with email servers, websites, hard drives, storage media, databases, zip drives, cameras, personal devices, plus many more types of digital devices.

Possessing knowledge about each of these common devices means that a private investigator is able to access someone’s personal hard drive, email server, database, and / or personal device.

By working with these types of digital devices, an investigator may be able to potentially uncover important information from it. It may even be the case that these devices need to be reconstructed after being damaged in order so that information on them can be analyzed and evidence located.

Upon conducting an investigation and putting together a report based on the findings, any evidence that has been reconstructed and recovered file fragments. To be able to do this it requires a certain level of know how and technical skill.

Remorse acquisition

Although it was the case during the 1980s and 1990s that a private investigator needed to have a digital device in their hand in order to be able to gain access into it, thanks to advancements made within the field, this can now be done via remote acquisition forensics. Using the right type of tool, a private investigator is able to perform evidence gathering completely remotely.

However, it is important to know that sum states in America do have certain laws in place that prevent a private investigator from going so far whilst using a remote forensic tool. That being said, most of them only apply to officers from law enforcement agencies rather than to private investigators.

It is the case that the reason why the majority of people turn to private investigators where there are specific restrictions that impact on the police’s ability to do this type of work themselves. Via remote acquisition, a private investigator does not require to physically have hold of the digital device themselves.

That being said, it can be useful for them to have it, especially when working with an owner or account holder. It is at these times that it is critical to talk with a private investigator as to what option(s) is available and if it is realistic to submit a digital device to be forensically analyzed.

Accessing erased or deleted data

Once an image or message has been deleted from a cell phone or other digital device it does not necessarily mean that it is gone for good and can never again be retrieved. This is because images, messages, social media applications and interactions on them all leave digital fingerprints behind. The field of digital forensics is in existence because it is impossible to completely delete all of a piece of data. 

Private investigators have the skills to be able to not only locate data but also retrieve data that has been erased or deleted from a cell phone or other digital device.

Using digital forensics

A private investigator will turn to using digital forensics for a whole host of different reasons. If they for what ever reason they suspect that someone is not quite giving them the whole truth, keeping information from them, or actively deleting data, then this is the type of situation where digital forensics would be used. 

For instance, where a spouse is suspected to be doing something suspicious but they have a lock on their cell phone, a private investigator could access the information on there without knowing what the pin code is. 

Finding a good private investigator

For anyone who has never used a private investigator before, the idea of calling one up is a daunting idea, especially if it involves matters that are highly private. Once the required level of courage has been plucked up, there is then the matter of finding a reputable company or individual that can provide the required services. 

To do this, it is important to check to see if the private investigator belongs to any sort of affiliation, such as The National Council of Investigation and Security Services, the Society of Professional Investigators, or any that are affiliated to a particular state in America, i.e. the Maine Licensed Private Investigators Association (MLPIA).

This is because in order to be a member of such organizations, a private investigator must first be screened to see if they have any criminal records, will be required to sit an exam, and be required to have the correct level of professional indemnity insurance. It is important to check that they are affiliated and do not accept it as being so just because there is a logo on their website.

It is important to discuss with any private investigator that they are able to deal with the situation that requires looking into as every case is so different.

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