Collection, Analysis and Exchange of Electronic Evidence: the Focus of An Expert Group Meeting Hosted by INTERPOL

LYON, France – INTERPOL hosted a meeting of an international expert group on Electronic Evidence from 2 to 3 December 2014 at the INTERPOL General Secretariat, Lyon, France in the framework of the EVIDENCE project (European Informatics Data Exchange Framework for Courts and Evidence), funded by the European Union and coordinated by the National Research Council (CNR – Florence, Italy). The two-day meeting enabled over 30 experts from organisations and agencies such as the International Criminal Court, the Netherlands Forensic Institute and the UK National Crime Agency to share their experiences with regard to the applicable processes to collect, preserve, analyse and exchange electronic evidence as well as present such evidence before court.

The emergence of new technologies and online communication has facilitated an unprecedented rise of globalized criminal activity. Furthermore, the digitalization of our daily life produces electronic data and electronic traces which can be identified as evidence to be used and evaluated during pre-trial procedures as well as within criminal court proceedings. The production of electronic evidence before court is prone to being challenged frequently and thus requires that strict conditions are put in place in order to preserve and process electronic evidence all through its life-cycle and custody-chain, from its initial collection until its presentation and use during various stages before the court and thence into archival stage. This is even truer if considering that in the cyberspace the traditional country borders are cleared during the actions of the cybercriminal but then return later, when detectives trace actions of criminal searching and collecting electronic evidence. The EVIDENCE project thus aims at developing a common framework for the uniform application of new technologies in the collection, use and exchange of digital evidence.

During the EVIDENCE expert group meeting, the participants discussed the topic of electronic evidence, focusing on the legal, operational and institutional aspects. It would appear that the legal framework for online investigations, digital evidence and mutual legal assistance severely lags behind everyday reality and no longer provides a solid basis for law enforcement, forensic institutes and lawyers to fulfil their proper roles. Law enforcement agencies are confronted with the increasingly widespread use of anonymisation tools and military-grade encryption by civilians, a phenomenon which hampers not only online investigations, but the acquisition of potential evidence as well. This latest development needs to be considered in the context of core European values such as the fundamental rights to private and family life and, in this respect, the meeting considered the recent legislative trends in some countries aimed at ensuring that citizens have easy access to high-grade encryption as a means to guarantee security and freedom. Additionally, institutional cooperation was a key discussion point as a number of different actors are involved throughout the electronic evidence lifecycle requiring a close cooperation between law enforcement, forensic labs, the legal professions and the judiciary at a national and, increasingly, at an international level.