Poor training is a big part of the problem. Thousands of police officers have been trained to perform digital forensics under federal grant programs. But these police officer examiners are not required to possess any special training or education beyond a minimum level. The 40 hours or so of training they receive in the forensic software they use is typically the extent of their computer science background prior to their first case assignment.
Despite the minimal training of many digital forensics examiners, their findings are often unquestioningly accepted as fact.
Digital evidence can be compelling and it is often unambiguous. In too many cases, however, digital forensics experts make assertions about a defendant’s actions that are not supported by fact. Such errors create the risk of false conviction of the innocent and a free pass for the guilty.
We need higher standards and more professionalism in digital forensics. And we need to give digital forensics the sort of close scrutiny that all the other forensic science disciplines have been getting in recent years.
Roger Koppl, a research fellow at the Independent Institute, Oakland, Calif., is a professor of economics and finance at Fairleigh Dickinson University and director of the university’s Institute for Forensic Science Administration. Monique M. Ferraro is a lawyer and information security and digital forensics consultant at Technology Forensics, LLC, Waterbury, CT.