Internet and Social Media Investigations

Monday 30th November 2020

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Why investigators must embrace Social Media and the Internet

Social Media is the preferred communication method of billions of people worldwide and most court trials or tribunals within the UK rely on some form of Social Media or Internet related evidence. There is an expectation by the legal profession that Social Media and Internet material is acquired and examined by investigators during the evidence gathering process.

The acquisition process is complicated by rapidly developing technologies, which can potentially determine when and where a Social Media or Internet post originated and other valuable information such as device used, for example. A 21st century investigation must take into account the use of technology and the Internet and failing to do so will potentially harm an otherwise compelling case.

Consider your own Social Media presence

You will have posted personal information such as relationships or other sensitive data such as your place of work or hobbies and interests.

A competent investigator is likely to be able to uncover and exploit this information, despite your best efforts to keep it private. This may be the starting block of a sequence of events and opportunities that can reveal everything an investigator can ever wish for. The Dark or Hidden Web is a hive of compromised information which when approached positively can introduce new and significant lines of enquiry that may not otherwise be considered.

The technology behind the Internet ensures that one cannot operate without leaving a trail which using the correct techniques will potentially identify the individual responsible for the activity, including who sent an email or visited a website, what they viewed and when.

There are a considerable number of free and easy to use tools and services which are available to investigators and can assist in harvesting Social Media and Internet material. When deployed competently, these tools can fast track an investigation, hugely reducing cost and risk.

Criminals and other nefarious Internet users will take steps to mask or hide their identity. However, a knowledgeable investigator will have the capability to begin unmasking the subject’s true identity.

The methods used by criminals are very similar to those used by investigators. The difference is that investigators must comply with the law and accepted principles.

Legislation plays a very important part in an investigative strategy and needs to be fully understood to ensure compliance and ultimately admissibility of evidence. What’s really important is that investigators stay on the right side of the law and use best practice to achieve good evidence or intelligence, whilst exploiting all of the investigative opportunities available to them.

It is therefore very important that in 2020 all investigators have at least a foundation level understanding of how the Internet and associated technologies function.

Understanding the footprint you leave when conducting an Internet based investigation and having the ability to manage that footprint is a core skill required by investigators. Finally recording and presenting material in a manner acceptable in proceedings is key. There is little point in spending time acquiring evidence if it isn’t presented in a robust manner that can withstand scrutiny.

For further information, please visit the Investigations training courses page

"Open Source Internet Investigations" course on 9 & 10 February - book now

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