Sounds like tall talk? On the contrary, the role of computers in crime can not be undermined in any way. For those who still labour under the impression that computer related crimes refer to a far-fetched specialized matter affecting only a remote community of geeks – the truth can not be harsher. Almost all crimes reported in the UK , from theft, murder, rape, robbery to corporate horrors where an entire banking chain or some other form of public service (including governmental security issues) may be endangered – computers are being misused everywhere. The cases of hacking company or government (specially in the areas of security and finance) records, hate mails, blackmail using photographs or malicious information, child pornography are snowballing the courts across nation. February 2007 saw another important eye opener for the less informed – Jim Gamble, Head, Child Exploitation and Online protection Centre (Home Office) admitted that the government resources were inadequate to deal with the downpour of paedophile leads submitted to their department.
What the Law Says
Till date, a stunningly small number of areas in UK’s legal texts explicitly define the role of computers in criminal acts.
- The Computer Misuse Act – Discusses the probable misuses of computers for illegal purposes, with emphasis on unauthorized access to and modification of information.
- Data Protection Act – This Act addresses the processing, storage, display and transmission of personal data and its illegal manipulations using networks.
- Terrorism Act – This Act covers interference to electronic systems by terrorists and other individuals posing a threat to security of life and property.
- Police and Criminal Evidence (PACE) and Regulation of Investigatory Power Acts (RIPA) – these cover situations evidence is to be largely obtained from uses of computers, also noting the specifications of presenting evidence to a court of law.
- Apart from these, the Good Practice Guide prepared by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) details the correct handling, storage, and analysis of computer-derived evidence so that it may be acceptable in a court.
Needless to say, this is just not enough in the face of the immense possibilities that computer-related crime has.
Need for Expert Witnesses
In a situation where the outcome of the case is dependant on its effective presentation, the role of the witness is obviously vital. Choosing the wrong witness can have disastrous results in computer-related crimes, as the court is more prone to be misdirected than other crimes. A quack will endanger more than he can grasp, especially in corporate cases, where the entire effect of the crime may not always be manifest at the beginning.
Fields Associates – the Difference An Expert Witness Can Make
In the relatively young field of computer forensics, Fields Associate has the advantages of a veteran firm, having been around since 1997. Specializing in the area of recovery of digital ‘fingerprints’ (evidence) left by the routine use of computers, this company deals with all kinds of cases ranging from data theft to child pornography. Interestingly, a solid 86% of their cases come through recommendations, making it a strongly symbiotic existence. In other words, since they depend so heavily on the quality of their work, their performance level and reliability would be of key concern, and is strictly maintained by the firm. Their areas of work, if summarized, would be:
- Forensic Computer Examination - a team of specialists procure forensic evidence through the most secure methods of examination. This is done keeping in mind that the data procured might have to be produced before a court of law, and therefore should be in their original, non tampered version so that they are acceptable.
- Providing Expert Testimony - When it comes to the testimonial itself, there is tremendous performance pressure on the witness, since the fate of those involved depends on him. Naturally, a total understanding of information and network security measures, prevention and detection of intrusions, and digital forensic analysis is a necessity in these cases. The experts at Fields Associates have the extra edge of experience apart from the given qualifications required of a specialist.
- Proper Reportage and Court Presentation - This is perhaps the most crucial issue in computer related crimes. A jury would be lost if the witness spewed out a torrent of incomprehensible jargon, and despite his learning, the case would be lost. Since Fields Associates is also into conducting courses in related areas, they already know the danger that unclarity can pose. Therefore, accurate but comprehensible presentation of the matter – whether as an oral case before the jury or as a written document – is given utmost importance.
- Presentation of graphics – A similar emphasis on clarity and correct presentation of facts is laid on any graphics prepared for court presentation.
The need of the day is enlightenment, followed by right choice. The law can no more afford to remain ignorant about the importance of computers in crime, and those affected must realize that they depend entirely on who they choose to help them out.
James Walsh is a freelance writer and copy editor. For more information on digital forensic investigations see http://www.fieldsassociates.co.uk/computer-forensics.html