Chain of Custody and Digital Evidence Management
December 21, 2022
Evidence management personnel know that rock-solid chain of custody records are essential to the admissibility of digital evidence during the entire legal process.
Police departments process a mind-boggling amount of sensitive digital evidence, so it’s critical that the original evidence be carefully packaged, managed, and tracked throughout the entire lifecycle. An unbreakable chain of custody is crucial to the forensic investigation process; it’s proof that the digital evidence hasn’t been tampered with, mishandled, or altered.
Tracker Products has developed an evidence management software system that tracks the integrity of digital evidence content throughout its entire lifecycle of evidence from collection to disposition. With our full-spectrum evidence management solutions, you can be confident that your electronic evidence will be tracked efficiently, effectively, and sustainably while in your custody. The evidence tracking software also protects sensitive information, collects data in real-time, and can be monitored from the convenience of your phone.
The integrity of digital evidence is critical to the legal process in criminal cases. But effective evidence management software doesn’t just address the evidence itself. The system should provide easy access to those involved in each case: Evidence custodians, police officers, and other approved internal and external contacts. With Tracker Products, all stakeholders can see information about the evidence associated with a specific case from anywhere in the world.
When it comes to digital evidence, you can’t be too careful. That’s why Tracker Products has developed state-of-the-art evidence management software to protect and secure the digital data in your custody, while also helping to establish an unbreakable chain of custody process. That way, digital evidence can be used to convict the guilty or prove innocence during the legal process.
The importance of Chain of Custody for Digital Evidence
Chain of custody is a system wherein evidence custodians oversee the intake, maintenance, and transfer of evidence to maintain its integrity. Chain of custody records are essential to the admissibility of digital evidence throughout the entire legal process.
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By tracking the history of the digital evidence – which can include hardware, software, and data sources – you will have established a proper chain of custody that ensures the evidence can be admissible in a court of law. By controlling and tracking digital evidence from start to finish, the data will be protected from alteration, damage, and misrepresentation.
Evidence management software can save your evidence unit hours, if not days, spent combing through documents or logbooks looking for information about the location and history of your digital evidence. Not only can you protect the integrity of digital evidence when you implement evidence management software, but the system also allows you to search and find what you’re looking for quickly. Whether the evidence is needed for court, the lab, or being pulled for disposal, you’re just a couple clicks away from locating it.
Why is the Topic of Digital Evidence Important?
Every photo, video, and audio file used as digital evidence by your agency requires the same solid chain of custody form and process as any other physical item you store in your property room. Today, most property and evidence rooms take in more digital evidence items than physical. In most criminal cases, digital evidence in multiple formats is a large part of the case. It’s not uncommon for squad car video, body cam recordings, crime scene photos, audio evidence files, or mobile phone data to be collected for nearly every criminal investigation.
RELATED: THE DELUGE OF DIGITAL EVIDENCE
Accountability of digital evidence assets is critical for the effective prosecution of criminal cases. But the digital evidence management system won’t end with intake. When it comes to digital evidence, it’s imperative to provide easy access to those who need it while denying access to those who don’t. All stakeholders can access and view the digital files they need from the same screen they use to look at the rest of the evidence associated with the case.
Tracking digital evidence can be overwhelming for property rooms that are unprepared for the additional burdens of the digital age. In today’s environment, evidence tracking software is no longer considered to be a luxury item. Evidence management software is an essential tool for over-burdened, under-staffed evidence units nationwide.
Tracker Products can help ensure that your sensitive digital evidence is authenticated, protected, and tracked for its entire lifecycle.
Benefits of Using Tracker Products’ SAFE Software
- Your evidence – including digital data – is protected by an infallible chain of custody
- Digital evidence is safeguarded from alteration or misrepresentation
- The evidence management system reduces input errors and eliminates duplication
- Documentation can begin in the field from a cell phone or tablet
- Officers cannot submit evidence until all of the required fields are filled
- The system generates a detailed information label, including a barcode
- Automated workflow assigns tasks to individuals who need to take action
- Unalterable chain of custody. New data can be added, but nothing can be deleted
- Data is encrypted and protected on-site and/or in the cloud
- Reduced time of collection and resources spent tracking, managing, and locating evidence
- Audits and inventories are much easier and faster
- Chain of custody is more detailed and accurate
- Automatically sends case-specific contacts real-time updates
- Auto-disposition will increase your annual disposals and create more space
- Reduces liability
- Assurance that you are compliant with corporate policies and regulations
Frequently Asked Questions
- What is the Chain of Custody?
In criminal or legal proceedings, the chain of custody information is the entire history of a piece of evidence. It is the detailed, chronological and accurate record of how the evidence – digital evidence or physical evidence – was retrieved, packaged, taken into custody, filed, transferred, assessed, and disposed of. The parties submitting, processing, and transferring the evidence must establish a secure chain of custody to verify its integrity. This process helps to ensure the evidence has not been tampered with, planted, or altered.
- Why is the chain of custody critical?
Evidence management processes can make or break a court case. Important information, DNA, digital evidence, and other data can corroborate a suspect’s testimony or disprove a defendant’s argument; so the jury or other authorities can make a confident decision.
When it comes to law enforcement proceedings, even the slightest mistake can get evidence thrown out of court. If someone alters the information, takes too long to transfer it, mislabels it, or tampers with it in any way, vital evidence – including digital evidence – could be deemed inadmissible. That’s why establishing and maintaining a clear chain of custody should be essential.
- What are the best practices for digital evidence?
Strict protocols need to be established when dealing with evidence because digital evidence has become critical to legal processes. Now, government agencies routinely provide guidance on the best ways to preserve it. For example, never test or alter original digital evidence. Digital forensics experts will copy the digital evidence and test that as part of the forensic analysis process.
You should also…
- Document Digital Device Condition
- Review the Power Status
- Secure the Original Device
- Keep the Device Digitally Isolated
- Prepare for Long-Term Digital Evidence Storage
- Monitor Digital Evidence Transactions
- Ensure the Chain of Custody
- Periodically Audit Your Digital Evidence Management Program
Does Tracker Products’ software make documenting the chain of custody easier?
To ensure a chain of custody can be established, it’s essential that digital evidence and physical evidence are tracked from the field, to trial, to evidence disposition. Fields within Tracker’s software can be made “required,” thus eliminating the possibility of missing information. That way, Police officers can directly log evidence data such as case number, location, date/time, and suspect name, etc., into the evidence management software, allowing required information to be printed on a barcode label.
Once that’s complete, all the evidence custodians will need to do is verify the digital or physical evidence was packaged correctly, note any required lab work, double-check the data is complete and accurate, and assign the digital or physical evidence items to their new storage location.
After that, any time the evidence is moved, transferred, audited, or inventoried, the information will be documented. And all shareholders are updated in real-time.
- What is the Chain of Custody in cyber security?
Chain of custody in a cyber security environment is the process of tracking and monitoring digital evidence as it moves from one user/device to another. It also involves documenting the chain of events that lead to the recovery or re-acquisition of data. Unlike the traditional physical chain of custody, a chain of custody in a cyber environment usually involves digital forensics. Digital forensic experts create a chain of custody record and use it to ensure the integrity of the evidence is not compromised, and establish the chain of events leading up to the recovery or acquisition of data.
- What are the legal ramifications of chain custody?
An incorrect chain of custody can result in evidence being thrown out of court, which could have a significant impact on the outcome of legal proceedings. Furthermore, chain of custody mistakes could potentially lead to expensive civil lawsuits or criminal charges. For this reason, a chain of custody procedures should be established for any digital and physical evidence that could be used in a trial.
- What is the Examination and Analysis stage?
During the examination stage, digital forensics investigators will use specialized tools and equipment to analyze the digital evidence. This includes examining the data stored on a computer, mobile device, or other digital media. The analysis stage involves using the data collected during the examination stage to determine the events and people involved in any criminal activity. Investigators may use various techniques such as timeline analysis, keyword searches, and metadata analysis to identify patterns of behavior and draw conclusions. The analysis stage is often the most time-consuming part of the digital forensics process, as it requires a great deal of technical knowledge and experience to properly interpret the data.
- What information should I include in a forensic report?
The forensic report should include a detailed description of the evidence collected, the methods used to collect it, and any conclusions that were drawn from the analysis. It should also include a chain of custody record that outlines the individuals that had access to the evidence and when. Additionally, a comprehensive report should include any relevant screenshots or images that may be useful in understanding the case. Finally, the forensic report should provide an explanation of any technical terms used in the report.