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Digital Evidence

Digital forensics encompasses the activity of computers, networks, databases, cell phones, cell towers, digital cameras, GPS devices and other types of digital or electronic evidence. Issues to be considered may include search and seizure, preservation of data, privacy, acquisition, analysis of digital media, and the production of a report that can be used in court.


National Academy of Sciences Report - See pp. 179-182 for the National Research Counsel's evaluation of Digital and Multimedia Analysis.

Scientific Working Group on Digital Evidence - composed of member organizations that are actively engaged in the field of digital and multimedia evidence. Works to foster communication and cooperation and ensure quality and consistency within the forensic community.

Forensic Examination of Digital Evidence: A Guide for Law Enforcement, Electronic Crime Scene Investigation: An On-the-Scene Reference for First Responders, and Digital Evidence in the Courtroom: A Guide for Law Enforcement and Prosecutors - these guides set out the National Institute of Justice's recommendations for how law enforcement and crime scene investigators should handle digital evidence. Evidence on cell phones or computers can be changed or destroyed if proper techniques are not used to forensically analyze the data. This guide may be used to cross examine law enforcement officers who did not follow the recommendations for handling this type of evidence.

NIST has published Guidelines on Mobile Device Forensics that establishes methods for preserving and processing digital information on mobile devices.

Digital Evidence by Jeff Welty, 2015. A guide to the legal issues presented by the collection of digital evidence in criminal cases, written mainly for North Carolina judges, lawyers, and officers. This book addresses how such evidence may be obtained and the rules that govern its use in court and is available for purchase.

Online Resources

Digital Evidence Experts

For information about experts who have previously worked on cases involving digital evidence, see this online database.


From the University of North Carolina School of Government's Criminal Law Blog:

  • Georgia Case on Searching Cell Phones Incident to Arrest - Analysis of a recent decision by the Georgia Court of Appeals (Hawkins v. State) regarding searches of cell phone data incident to arrest.
  • Authentication and Hearsay Issues with Phone Records - This post considers whether hearsay and authentication objections can be overcome where the state seeks to introduce a defendant's phone records using an affidavit stating the phone records are business records.
  • Discovery in Child Pornography Cases - Discussion of the discovery process in child pornography cases and whether a copy of the defendant's hard drive may be provided so that a defense expert can analyze it.
  • Sexting - Inquires about the possibilities of criminal prosecution for sexting (sending pornographic digital images via text message) by minors.
  • Computer Searches and the Scope of Consent - Suggests a possible application of traditional notions of scope of consent in computer searches by law enforcement.
  • Encrypted Computer Files and the Fifth Amendment - Discusses the legal and technical challenges of accessing encrypted files on a suspect's computer, including consideration of the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
  • Warrantless Searches of Computers and Other Electronic Devices - Includes a link to a list of list of cases on subjects such as cell phones searches incident to arrest, whether a consensual search of a residence includes the computers there, and privacy expectations in laptop issued by an employer.
  • The Second Look Doctrine, Part I and Part II - This two-part post covers the "second look" doctrine, which holds that if the police looked at, or could have looked at an item, such as a cell phone, during the arrest and booking process and are still in possession of the item, they can take a second look at it later, without a warrant, without violating the Fourth Amendment. The first post explains the doctrine; the second addresses some issues of applying it, including whether there is a probable cause requirement.
  • Searching Cell Phones for Evidence of Texting While Driving - Examines the investigative authority of officers attempting to enforce laws against texting while driving.

Forensic Magazine regularly posts articles on digital forensics on its Digital Forensic Insider page. Recent topics include: SIM card forensics, cell phone evidence, and collecting computer evidence.

From the Electronic Frontier Foundation:

  • Cell Tracking - Considers whether the government can use cell phone records to track the physical location of a suspect without first obtaining a warrant based on probable cause.
  • Printers - Discusses the practice of color laser printer manufacturers encoding of identifying information on each page printed by the machine. Explores the privacy implications of this practice.
  • Revised Opinion in Privacy Case Blurs Clear Limits to Digital Search and Seizure - Discusses a 2010 Ninth Circuit case dealing with proper procedure for electronic searches.