Anyone who has seen a courtroom drama on television is duly familiar with DNA evidence; a strand of hair, drop of blood or fingerprint can incriminate a suspect. Now, in a technologically advanced society and the advancing field of computer forensics, digital DNA is quickly becoming the preferred evidence in a given case, and things like text messages on a smartphone are becoming the new fingerprints at the crime scene.
So, do you really know how much “digital DNA” you are leaving behind everyday? Let’s take a look.
Most people leave a very traceable electronic trail as they go about their lives, and do so largely without realizing it. As you surf the web, send emails, use a GPS in your car, send text messages, save Word documents, or even use your frequent shopper’s card at a store, your activities and correspondence are being recorded, and can therefore be researched and used against you in a court case.
How are detectives, law enforcement, and government officials using your digital DNA? In recent years, it has become acceptable for attorneys and other law professionals to use electronic evidence, such as photos, messages, or web histories, in a court setting, if they can prove that the information is credible and that it was collected legally.
Digital forensics has helped law enforcement agencies catch criminals by following their electronic trail. For example, if an individual is suspected of robbing a store or committing adultery, or being guilty of any other crime that would require an alibi, digital evidence could make or break the case. Using GPS data, a husband could be recorded visiting a mistress. A burglar may have incriminating text messages saved to a phone, coordinating times and locations with accomplices.
Just as utilizing digital DNA can help a case, it can also hurt one it if used incorrectly. Detectives that specialize in digital forensics must be very careful as they collect their data to ensure that the information is coming from a credible source.
There have been cases in the past in which incriminating evidence has been planted onto a suspect’s computer remotely; an experienced digital forensics detective knows how to identify and rule out this type of false information.
Even considering the complications and difficulties surrounding using digital DNA in court cases, the reality is that this type of evidence is growing much more popular and important. This makes it all the more important for people to be aware of the electronic information trail they are leaving, and how their digital DNA could possibly be used by others.