Although the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution protects us from illegal searches and seizures, it left somewhat of a grey area when it came to electronic communications. With all the technological advances almost every person uses some kind of device to communicate electronically that goes out to the Internet. When using these devices to communicate information can be intercepted and even altered in some ways. Because of these advances in technology Congress has implemented laws to protect people from having information stolen or accessed illegally by individuals or even in some cases Law Enforcement.
In the advent of Computer Forensics, certain guidelines must be met before obtaining any information either by intercepting the transmission, securing the device or acquiring the information by means of remotely connecting into the device. Several laws have been implemented to protect a person’s rights with regards to accessing their electronically stored data. The Wire Tap Act is one of these laws. This law prohibits any interception of a communication between two private parties without an order issued by a court. Any violation of this Act will result in criminal or civil liability, and a violation by governmental officials in a case could result in a suppression of that evidence.
Both the Stored Wired and Electronic Communications Act, and the Pen Registers and Trap and Trace Devices Statute identify the need for protecting the privacy of individuals with regards to computers and the data within them. Initially this act was regarding phone numbers that an individual called, but since the implementation of the Patriot Act, I.P addresses can now be accessed along with emails ,communication ports, and what Web sites are being accessed from either your computer or cell phone. Investigators must obtain legal access to computers before obtaining any data from them. The case of Jamie Staley provided an example of how such an intrusion of computer privacy can in fact take place.
This case involved the defendant Jamie Staley intercepting emails from members of her husband’s family with information pertaining to a bitter divorce and child custody battle. Through computer forensic analysis it was determined that in fact Jamie had intercepted and in some cases altered electronic transmissions made by her ex husband’s grandparents and their attorney. This was clearly a violation of the Attorney Client privilege and also the Wire Tap Act, which clearly stated that electronic data being transmitted cannot be intercepted by a third party.
An argument can also be made that the Stored Wired and Communications Act regarding accessing stored data had also been violated. When gathering evidence the individual who is responsible for the process has an obligation to obtain the data as accurately and responsibly as possible. Data must be collected both legally and proficiently, in order to protect the rights of the individuals being investigated. Both policies and procedures must be followed to protect the integrity, and reliability of the evidence being collected.
1. Stored Communications Act : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stored_Communications_Act
2. “Pen Registers” and “Trap and Trace Devices
3. Computer Security and Forensics Law Checklist: By Josh Wepman http://www.ehow.com/list_6746948_computer-security-forensics-law-checklist.html