In this rapidly advancing era of digital devices, computer forensics and its function are not unknown to the world. Computer forensics is utilized as a legal tool to investigate. A criminal investigation is a critical procedure that is largely based on evidence derived from various sources. This evidence has to be authentic in order to make the case strong and to reach the culprit. Having written that, it is essential to take help from scientific devices to rectify the assumptions. Computer forensics is, therefore, essential in determining the situation and series of events that might have taken place during the criminal activity. The impacts of computer forensics are great in any investigation procedure. However, it has been observed that the relevance of computer forensics is highly underutilized in criminal investigations that take place in the USA. Several factors are responsible for the aforementioned underutilization of computer forensics. These factors have been discussed further in the paper.
Computer forensics is a process that deals with the identification of digital evidence. The evidence collected through digital equipment is analyzed and preserved. It is further presented in a legally acceptable manner during the case proceedings. The criminal justice system expects that the data collected through the computer forensics is presented in front of the courts in a reliable and authentic form. However, their use has been underutilized for many reasons now. Computer forensics is said to be the most significant and reliable process to attain evidence in legal matters. Yet it is seen that its utilization has begun to dwindle in balance for some time, especially in the United States. A rapid change that has taken place in the digital world giving way to various new devices can be counted as one of the many other factors which led to this underutilization. Moreover, there prevails a lack of training for the investigators in this department, which can also be held responsible for the less use of forensics in the investigation departments. It has been observed that computer forensics, which is an essential subject in criminology, is not adequately taught in the judicial or the law institutions in the USA. The trailblazers in criminology have contributed less to the computer forensics and have indulged in other manifestations of the digital world. They seem to have ignored the fact that computer forensics has a lot of benefits to offer to the criminal justice system of any state. There has certainly been no transition in this particular department of criminology. Therefore, the paper would suggest that the use of computer forensics is highly underutilized in the United States and that its utility must increase along with rapid transition in the said department in order to assist the criminal justice system in the case proceedings.
Why is Computer Forensics Important?
People are living in a world where almost everything is interconnected. This is a world of internet, and almost every other thing or incident has to do with computer-related stuff or mobile devices one way or the other. Reaching out for the records from the past eighteen to twenty years, it can be claimed that the mobile devices related crimes have risen to ninety-five percent, and hence the investigation procedures have become all the way more complicated and expensive. In such complex circumstances, computer forensics can be used as a ray of hope. This field of forensic science can be utilized to unravel the tangled strings of complicated criminal cases. And most of the criminal cases now definitely involve a cyber-connection. Without computer forensics, solving such cases becomes next to impossible.
Computer Forensics and Its Forgotten Benefits
The fact lies uncovered in the books of criminology that computer forensics is a subject that holds the potential to justify a criminal activity and that its results are highly genuine and authentic in nature. The police come across several situations that are challenging in the investigation process, and therefore they struggle to reach the truth despite the power of computer forensics. This is mainly due to the untrained investigators in the forensics department who have not attained practice in the field to expertise and utilize it at its fullest potential. They usually reside in the conventional ways of uncovering the truth, such as battering or threatening the suspects in order to retrieve any useful evidence regarding the crime scene. This process of pulling out information is highly unreliable in the investigation procedure and is also lengthy. It demands more time and energy, and yet the results can prove to be less fruitful for the investigation team or the police. The digital devices used in investigation processes are always more authentic and reliable. If computer forensics are utilized in a comprehensive manner, it can increase the efficiency of procedures in the criminal justice department. Moreover, the prevention of evidence can also be convenient.
Computer forensics includes the preservation of sensitive data and records. These records are essential to maintain for future studies and court settings. Another important aspect of utilizing computer forensics is that the data is easy to be carried and presented anywhere that it is required. Technically, computer forensics I important because it can save and analyze your data for future use in legal matters. The demand for computer forensics is high in almost all investigative departments.
Every other day, a healthy amount of information is exchanged over the internet. Though it is fruitful for the masses, however, many criminals consider it to be an opportunity to set a fraudulent platform. Computer forensics is highly useful when it comes to dealing with cases such as property disputes, phishing, and corporate level scam, a certain breach of contract, and theft. Most of the time, the traditional way of collecting data can result in losing it or deleting it. Computer forensics can be greatly advantageous in preserving or even retrieving the recorded shreds of evidence.
Another benefit that can be placed on top is the efficiency of the computer forensics system. Consider landing into a room inundated with heaps of files dealing with various criminal cases and searching for one particular evidence. It is going to be a tiresome task for any officer to look for such evidence from among a mountain of other files containing data. Computer forensics, on the other hand, has a high-efficiency level. It can search for any case with the help of certain keywords that are relevant to the case. It can even look for keywords that are stored in a hard drive in a different language. The evidence can also be taken into the court of law, which was previously impossible. But the disadvantages that come with this process can also not be ignored since they are responsible for reducing its use in the criminal system of the USA.
Reasons for the Decrease in the Utility of Computer Forensics
As the world is rapidly moving towards digitalization, innovation is taking place in almost all areas of studies. Similarly, the most critical field that is criminology requires the most advanced systems in order to fulfill the requirements of a criminal procedure. This demands a swift system equipped with easy to use devices which are at par with the advancing technology. Therefore, many new digital devices are being utilized in the investigation process. But the digital data can easily be altered or can be flawed. This makes the computer forensics a problematic source of presenting evidence in the court of law.
In addition to that, the attorneys who have gained experience in the field of computer forensics can greatly take advantage of their position and can mold a certain case according to their convenience without reaching out for the complex facts that may underlie any criminal activity. Due to this, they can present the case in a disjointed manner in front of the judges, which can harm the investigative procedure and ultimately can result in poor decision making. For this reason, many courts consider the statements based on computer forensic attorneys as risky enough to be presented during the hearing of a case. Thus the legal problems can continuously lead to underutilization of computer forensics (Shalaginov, 2017).
Another reason that has been identified as a hindrance in the use of computer forensics is the limited budget dedicated to the said field of operation. For the maintenance and operation of computer forensics software and the preservation of digital pieces of evidence, a reasonable budget is required. Almost all the investigation inspectors are required to have the necessary equipment for dealing with the procedures. These equipment are expensive. But this is not where the tale ends. Even if the officers are able to possess this equipment, they are consequently tangled as they are also required to renew the licenses for these operating systems on and off. Moreover, they are supposed to go through a lengthy and complex process of training as well. Without adequate training, a police officer or an investigation inspector can hardly keep up with the rapidly advancing technology in the field of criminal investigation. Similarly, the judges who are the ultimate decision-makers also need to be aware of the certain tools used in computer forensics in order to present their arguments or say in the hearing of a certain criminal case. For that very reason, they also need to have adequate training in the field.
Studies have shown that the lack of training in the field of computer forensics has led to wrong decision making and poor handling of a case. The primary cause for its underutilization is that it is an underfunded technology and many officers fail to acquire its required training. Thus the replacements rapidly began to take place (Hamm, 2017). A computer forensic expert who is responsible for looking into a certain crime case must be good at adding value to the digital evidence. Most of the time, they lack adequate communication skills to explain to their audience what they have looked up and what golden nugget they have found. Curiosity has to be the key when it comes to computer forensics. Every detail must be excavated by ripping apart the available documents or objects. But due to the sheer lack of attention offered to this field of study, many institutes in the USA have been unable to produce forensic experts to solve complex cases. The courts also rely on the statements offered by the officials who explain their first-hand encounter with the crime scene or the victim.
Every investigation reflects the impacts of an officer’s training. A successful training leads to an effective investigation procedure. An underfunded training program likewise can result in a disastrous outcome. For example, an officer who could not manage to obtain proper training in the field of computer forensics may react absurdly to an emergency, and therefore, he may not be able to gather the digital evidence correctly, leading to a flawed beginning of the entire investigation procedure. The flawed results can lead to the failure of the entire criminal justice system of a state.
On the other hand, the officers or attorneys that are highly trained in the field of computer forensics charge per hour for retrieving certain evidence. Depending on the nature of different cases, it has been estimated that a single case and its reporting and data analysis can take as long as fifteen hours. The process is cumbersome and costly, as well. A computer forensic expert must be able to make his findings clear when presenting a case in the court of law (Ramadhani, 2018). This is because computer forensics is not a field known to all and can cause difficulty for the decision-makers to comprehend the evidence if they are explained by the experts in a purely forensic terminology. Training is hence needed to be inevitably essential if forensic science is to be counted in.
There are various elements which altogether affect the functioning of an investigative process. The investigative data or information is highly affected by the various devices that are utilized throughout the process. For example, if only CCTV cameras were used to investigate a criminal happening, it would be very difficult to collect the large scale data by utilizing single video footage. Many minute details are mostly unseen when relying on a video recording only. Therefore it is essential to use adequate digital devices to collect the information regarding any crime. Moreover, it becomes difficult to recognize a person who might be associated with a crime. Hence it often becomes difficult to rely on the shreds of evidence provided by the victim because the investigative field is somehow more demanding than it is believed to be. The nitty-gritty details are always the ultimate evidence that may turn a certain situation topsy-turvy. Computer forensics in the USA are believed to aggravate the entire situation, thus leading to its underutilization. In many cases, it happens that the lawyers or the attorneys impose extra charges for retrieving the data, which is considered publicized otherwise. The charges are incurred since they are supposed to establish facts in a certain case on the data retrieved from the public video (Ramadhani, 2017). Another hindrance involved in its underutilization could be the differences in the forensic software that make the digital evidence unreliable to a certain extent.
The accuracy of the evidence presented in the court can be doubted by the decision-makers. In addition to that, the fact can’t be gainsaid that errors are inevitable in any digital process of investigation. Most of the time, the errors are so unnoticeable that the examiners of certain evidence fail to highlight them (Hamm, 2017). Such procedures tend to demotivate the functioning of a criminal justice department. If the department is dealing with a criminal case that is international, the charges for retrieving the digital data are even high, and so is the process even more challenging in nature. It is believed that the evidence built by the attorneys or detectives is also limited due to the nature of this digital process. In the USA, the use of computer forensics has also been rendered limited by civil liberty authorities. The courtrooms have witnessed certain flawed instances during case hearings that were a clear result of flawed digital evidence. Even many courtrooms in the United States have prohibited the detectives from keeping devices that contain digital evidence. This tends to reduce the number of evidence that is within reach of the investigative officers (Becker & Dutelle, 2018).
It is also important to note that the underutilization of computer forensics in the USA is prevalent because of a rise in cybercrimes. It has become quite easy to hack the systems and present the data in a totally opposite direction to turn the cards in favor of the culprit. To avoid such instances, computer forensic experts are required who can efficiently deal with such crimes but again, the process of training and preparing the officials for such sensitive tasks is cumbersome and requires a high budget.
The Way Forward
The major factor that contributes to the underutilization of computer forensics is its scientific nature. Therefore its use is complex and less prevalent in the USA. But looking at its scientific nature, its significance can’t be ignored. The process undoubtedly holds importance. It is essential for the law enforcement agencies and the investigative institutions to train the officers regarding the use of computer forensics in the criminal justice system since the forensics software involves a deeper understanding and a detailed study of the ICT concepts to knit a relationship between the crime scene and the evidence extracted (Hamm, 2017). Studying the process in a scientific way on a regular basis can enable the officers to be well equipped with the use of computer forensics, thereby reducing its underutilization in the USA.
The innovations of the 21st century are jaw-dropping and mind-boggling at the same time. Many have uncountable perks, yet they may cause harm in unimaginable ways. In an era that is digitally charged, one can not entirely rely on traditional methods of investigation. Therefore, the utility of forensic science must be promoted in the USA, and the hurdles in the way of its prevalence must be eradicated. The institutions or police academies in the USA that do not offer any training to the officials have been a primary hurdle in the way of forensic science’s progress. Moreover, many police officers and judges hold the assumption that computer forensic is not essential to support a case since the consenting parties need to be present and ascertain the happenings unveiled in the evidence before it runs in a court of law. The charges considered mandatory for the forensic training program are rather too high and, therefore, unaffordable for many people. The law enforcement agencies must reduce the cost of training programs in order to dispense in-depth knowledge of computer forensics for the betterment of the criminal justice systems of the USA.
The goal of using computer forensics in any criminal investigation process is mainly to unfold relevant evidence. Moreover, this evidences need to be accurate, reliable, and scientifically justified at the same time. The paper has maintained the fact that the use of computer forensics is not up to the mark and is dwindling rapidly in the criminal justice system of the USA. This research has adequately discussed the pros and cons of computer forensics in detail and has highlighted the causes of its underutilization.
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- Shalaginov, A., Johnsen, J. W., & Franke, K. (2017, December). Cybercrime investigations in the era of big data. In 2017 IEEE International Conference on Big Data (Big Data) (pp.3672-3676). IEEE.