Social media usage continues to explode, and this explosion provides a critical data source for investigators focusing on computer and cell phone forensics. As more users continue to use social media platforms and apps to interact and engage, the information than can be pulled from these sources continues to grow. As a result, the information hidden in these platforms creates an even larger means of gaining potential evidence and information for litigation and government investigations.
In order to provide a better understanding of why social media provides such a wealth of information, here are a few statistics to put everything in perspective:
As you can see, the likelihood of finding relevant, useable information using social media can be staggering. While much of the information may never be useful as evidence in an investigation, the potential greatly increases with every user interaction with these platforms.
There is a wealth of information that can be uncovered on social media, and a variety of interactions can be used as evidence. Status updates, location notifications, photographs, and person-to-person communications can all be used as evidence in some cases, and this information can be located without a warrant. Mining of social media is a common occurrence, and it allows investigators and law enforcement alike to discover potential criminal activity.
Social media networks also provide considerable information when issued subpoenas for information. In these cases, the social platform may provide everything from photos and updates to complete user name activity and friends. All of this together can assist with building a stronger case, or help provide potential suspects for unsolved crimes.
While nearly every social media platform provides privacy settings for users, there are billions who never utilize them. Additionally, most users allow their friends and followers to access their pages and information, and this can be beneficial for investigations. In the 2012 Supreme Court case United States v. Meregildo, the Court found that investigators could use evidence gleaned from a suspect’s friend who chose to cooperate with law enforcement – without a warrant. The explanation for this was that the defendant’s decision to allow friends to see the information eliminated his expectation of privacy.
While social media does provide a wealth of potential evidence, this does not mean it will be allowed as evidence in all cases. Additionally, obtaining this information must follow similar channels as that of paper information to ensure that proper protocol is met for admissibility in court proceedings.
Social media is one of the fastest growing forms of online communication, and current rules and regulations are still confusing for all parties involved. While there are rules in place for most other types of communication, these rules have not incorporated the widespread use of the platforms. Until the myriad questions concerning the gathering and use of social media information in investigations and evidence in court proceedings, this is one area that can still provide investigators with information that they may not otherwise have been able to discover.
Understanding the importance of using social media in investigations, coupled with the ability to extract needed information from mobile devices can result in new information for an ongoing case, as well as providing the means by which to determine potential witnesses, suspects, and victims from information that is readily available. As investigators, it is our job to provide the means and tools needed for relevant and admissible evidence for court proceedings. Social media is currently a goldmine of information, especially among those who use mobile device apps.
If you are interested in finding out more about computer and cell phone forensics, call Prudential Associates at 877-279-6700.