Judge Chaney studies computer-generated evidence

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 18, 2009

The use of computer-generated evidence in both civil and criminal cases was the topic of a four-day seminar attended by Warren County Circuit Judge M. James Chaney.

Chaney was one of 24 judges nationwide chosen to attend. The seminar was presented by the National Computer Forensics Institute of Hoover, Ala., a training site supported by both the Department of Homeland Security and the Secret Service.

Judges’ seminars are held on a recurring basis, Chaney said, and his group was just the second or third to complete it.

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“It gave us a glimpse of some of the investigative technologies that could be used in different cases,” he said. “As the paper trails we used to look at may decrease, the digital trails will increase.”

Judges studied basic computer hardware components and the processes of digital information storage, exchange and retrieval.

They also learned about ways digital information and images can be authenticated or, conversely, shown to have been altered, using identification markers such as IP and hash numbers which computer forensics specialists can use to find out when a file was created and modified.

Some records that a suspect or witness might have deleted from a computer can also sometimes be restored, and search histories accessed, he said.

“The crime may have had nothing to do with computers but computers can be used to track a person, too,” Chaney added. “The things we do every day — e-mails, creating Word or Works documents, using cell phones or Blackberries — they can be used to verify or impeach a person’s testimony.”

The final day was spent discussing legal issues such as search and seizure laws.

All seminar expenses including meals and travel were paid by the Department of Homeland Security, Chaney said.

Local law enforcement officials have said in recent months that cyber- and high-tech crime is on the rise. “It’s getting easier and easier,” Warren County Sheriff Martin Pace told a civic group.

“The more information I can get, the more it might come in handy,” Chaney said.

In addition to protecting elected officials, the Secret Service is also responsible for protecting the nation’s financial infrastructure and works to combat high-tech fraud.

The institute also is supported by the Alabama District Attorneys Association, the state of Alabama and the city of Hoover.

Seminars are also given for law enforcement officers and prosecutors.


Contact Pamela Hitchins at phitchins@vicksburgpost.com