Digital Forensics - Legal Considerations

Legal Considerations

The examination of digital media is covered by national and international legislation. For civil investigations, in particular, laws may restrict the abilities of analysts to undertake examinations. Restrictions against network monitoring, or reading of personal communications often exist. During criminal investigation, national laws restrict how much information can be seized. For example, in the United Kingdom seizure of evidence by law enforcement is governed by the PACE act. The "International Organization on Computer Evidence" (IOCE) is one agency that works to establish compatible international standards for the seizure of evidence.

In the UK the same laws covering computer crime can also affect forensic investigators. The 1990 computer misuse act legislates against unauthorised access to computer material; this is a particular concern for civil investigators who have more limitations than law enforcement.

An individuals right to privacy is one area of digital forensics which is still largely undecided by courts. The US Electronic Communications Privacy Act places limitations on the ability of law enforcement or civil investigators to intercept and access evidence. The act makes a distinction between stored communication (e.g. email archives) and transmitted communication (such as VOIP). The latter, being considered more of a privacy invasion, is harder to obtain a warrant for. The ECPA also affects the ability of companies to investigate the computers and communications of their employees, an aspect that is still under debate as to the extent to which a company can perform such monitoring.

Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights asserts similar privacy limitations to the ECPA and limits the processing and sharing of personal data both within the EU and with external countries. The ability of UK law enforcement to conduct digital forensics investigations is legislated by the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act.

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