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Casey Anthony Computer Forensics Investigators Overlook Google Search For “Fool-Proof Suffocation” [1]

Not All Computer Forensics Experts are Created Equal.

casey_tThis story is almost too disturbing to repeat. So we hope you will forgive us for examining a slightly different angle. Just when we thought this horrible case was somehow behind us, and that perhaps we would no longer be subjected to the torment of having the image of an accused baby killer thrust into our faces, here we go again.

We have learned this week that the Florida sheriffʼs office that investigated the disappearance of Casey Anthonyʼs 2 year-old daughter overlooked evidence that someone did a Google search for “fool-proof suffocation” methods on Casey Anthonyʼs home computer the day the girl was last seen alive.

It is certainly a sad day for our industry considering that justice for this little girl may have been upended by what appears to be a sloppy computer forensics investigation. We will never know the value this critical piece of Electronically Stored Information (ESI) could have had in this case. The fact that Anthonyʼs own attorney (who knew about this Google search before the trial) said he was “shocked” when it was not presented as evidence, is a dramatic indication of the potential jury impact.

Yes, in our increasingly digital world, the disposition of cases, and the justice delivered (or not delivered) to defendants will increasingly rest in the balance of electronically stored data…and the professionals that recover it. Tomorrowʼs guilty criminal can be just one byte away from freedom. The computer hard drive is truly the new DNA of criminal proceedings and litigation, and the Casey Anthony case provides a profound call to action for serious computer forensics professionals who operate in both the public and private sectors.

The Take-Aways

  1. Is Private Better? This case highlights an ongoing debate about the differences between using public law-enforcement resources to conduct computer forensics examinations versus hiring private firms. Indeed, we work with a number of extremely talented and dedicated governmental computer forensics professionals….and some of them are among the best in the business. But local municipalities derive their funding (and therefore the money available for new technology, staffing, and training) from the ever shrinking municipal budgets – and the political agendas of the bureaucrats that control them. Private firms, however, deploy resources that are fortified by the competitive nature of free-enterprise, and all of the industry-proven success and talent that this implies. Profitable companies have significant resources to invest in the best available hardware and software, and can attract the most talented examiners. Shoddy electronic discovery firms can not survive over the long run. Have a package that simply must get delivered tomorrow? You can ship it via the U.S. Postal Service, or Fed Ex. You decide.
  2. Check the Pedigree.  Are you facing a “bet the farm” piece of litigation? Remember that not all computer forensics experts are created equal. Perform a thorough due diligence on your expertʼs training, certifications, and testimony experience. Do they have advanced training? Certifications? A proven track record?
  3. Cast Your Net Wide.  Overlooking a piece of critical digital evidence can have case-killing consequences. Consider the most likely sources of your ESI and make sure those sources are included in your electronic discovery strategy. Deploy a team approach so that your data analysis will receive the scrutiny of many perspectives.
  4. Quality Control.  Even seasoned experts get it wrong sometimes. Use a “peer review” protocol for those cases that have a heavy emphasis on digital evidence, particularly when the stakes are high. Do your QC.
  5. Get Better. Are you a computer forensics or electronic discovery professional? Make sure you are doing everything in your power to be the best you can be. Ours will be an increasingly valuable profession as the world continues itʼs thirst for digital data. The good news: The technology, training, and resources have never been better.

Want more info?
Call Jeffrey Hartman at 4Discovery
312-282-4140

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[1] The Associated Press. November 25, 2012. As appearing at www.timescolonist.com

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About Jeff Hartman

Jeff is a 30 year veteran of the corporate security, computer forensics, and eDiscovery community and a co-founder and partner at 4Discovery. 4Discovery is a leading provider of computer incident response and computer forensics services to attorneys, corporate security executives, and the information protection community.