Old movies developed many cliches for a marriage in trouble – lipstick on the collar, an unexplained matchbook, picking up an extension to listen in on a call. While lipstick is still popular, today’s footprints are found in the digital world. Rarely can those stains be erased or obscured – even with the technology and know-how available to experts.
We spend so much time in front of screens that it is hard to measure. We are often on our phones in front of our computers, toggling back and forth between the two. While we can measure how often our phones are “active,” it is harder to measure when we are engaged on our computers. Suffice it to say, we spend a lot of time in the digital world regardless of the device we are using.
Where are we spending that time?
According to the Pew Research Center, while only 5% of adults admitted using at least one social media site in 2005, that number grew to 72% last year.[i] YouTube and Facebook are the most widely used online platforms. [ii] Whether on our phones or a computer, we leave crumbs (think evidence) everywhere we go in the digital world. Not only can experts trace where we’ve gone in that world, but our cell phones can be used to track our physical locations. A mountain of data is generated by our digital actions, and it is never really gone, just more difficult to find. Where we go, what we “say,” what we view, and the actions we take (like attempting to delete files or information) all create data. Even our attempts to delete data often do the opposite and increase our digital footprint.
In short – incriminating texts and emails that are deleted aren’t truly gone. Social media posts that have been removed? They may still be out there, too. In fact, social media accounts that are recently deleted likely still exist, as well, including photos, posts, messages, and page visits. And no, using a work computer doesn’t prevent it from being discovered. In fact, that can sometimes make matters worse.
Don’t panic if you discover something. On the other side, don’t lick your chops if you discover something. While a digital investigation is possible, it isn’t necessarily easy or cheap. And getting information the wrong way can ruin its value. If it is to be used as evidence, it must be gathered in the right way, or it can’t be used. Done right, it can be quite powerful. Done wrong, its value diminishes precipitously.