Friday, August 22, 2008

PI Licensing for Computer Forensics

The debate goes on in many states about whether or not Computer Forensics practitioners must be licensed as Private Investigators.

The primary argument for this in most states is twofold:

Requiring a PI license will protect the public interest.

The current law covers computer forensics via the statement:
(v) Securing evidence to be used before a court, board, officer, or investigating committee.

The issue that those of us in the computer forensics field have with this is not whether or not we should be licensed. That would be a step in the right direction in my opinion. However, by lumping us in with PI's, it grants them credibility in our field by holding a license in a totally unrelated discipline, and excludes those who are qualified from practicing in the field until they obtain a PI license.

For instance, Michigan just revamped their licensing law to include computer forensics.
(viii) Computer forensics to be used as evidence before a court, board, officer, or investigating committee.

Honestly, I have no issue with obtaining a PI license in a state that requires one provided that:

The qualifications and experience I have count toward obtaining the license equally with that of private investigators. If you are going to have one law, then the qualifications should be able to be met by experience in any field you lump into the law.

That the law does not but an undue burden on the licensee to do business in that state. Of course, that is relative I suppose, since most states to not seem to have a residency requirement for licensing as long as you post a bond if required and meet the other qualifications for the license.

What is kind of nutty though is that if I obtain a PI license, then I can do anything in their business arena that I want, such as surveillance, investigations, etc.

So the catch 22 is, if I can qualify for a PI license based on my computer forensics experience, the board is potentially unleashing someone with no PI type experience on the public to perform services for which I know I am not qualified.

If a private investigator can perform forensics without any training or experience, then the licensing board is potentially unleashing an equally unqualified person on the public to perform scientific analysis of computer data.

The other part of the quandary is in states that do not require licensing of any kind for computer and cell phone forensics; the public is in a "buyers beware" situation since anyone can hang out a shingle and provide what is a scientific forensic service, even if they have never turned on a computer in their life.

To me, the right answer is to professionally license computer forensics examiners based on a state accepted competency examination, like public engineers or general contractors. Or at the very least requiring a vendor neutral certification from a nationally recognized body such as the Certified Computer Examiner certificate from the International Society of Computer Forensics Examiners.

The wrong answer is to lump what is a forensic science discipline in with a totally unrelated profession without consideration for competency in the discipline.


  1. Just wanted you to let you know that I'm really enjoying reading your blog. Keep up the good work!

  2. While you are examining the PI licensing issue. Have you seen some of the anti-competitive requirements for corporations to be licensed in other states? (Check out requirement 3)

    1. Forward a fee of $500 made payable to the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation in the form of a
    check or money order. This fee is not refundable.
    2. Attach the following documents which correspond to your application:
    A. Illinois Corporations—A copy of the Articles of Incorporation.
    B. Foreign Corporations (Those incorporated outside of Illinois) — A copy of the Articles of Incorporation and a copy
    of the Application of Authority to conduct business in Illinois, as issued by the Illinois Secretary of State.
    C. If a d/b/a is used, attach a copy of the assumed name document, as issued by the Illinois Secretary of State.
    3. At least one officer or executive employee must hold a current certificate of registration in this State. The licensed officer or executive employee shall be responsible for the activities of the agency.

  3. Nice Blog....

    Regarding Computer Forensics: you said a few things that are not true such as computer forensics being totally unrelated to PI work. I have been a licensed computer forensics private investigator for several years in my state, and have qualified in court, and have obtained casework because of my licensing. You are wrong that your experience should be used towards the experience requirements of a PI license. The experience you are talking about sounds like unlicensed computer forensics investigation work. In my state that experience by law does not count. You are taking chances of getting caught. Many clients and attorney are aware of this issue now, and you will have a tough time defending any unlicensed investigation work that you are caught doing. Good luck. The licensing is not for you, but for the protecton of the public. The specific training in surveillance, computer forensics, background checks, and more are up to the licensed PI. The testing and minimumu requirements do not cover all you seem to think they should, such as a test totally covering computer won't happen.

  4. The last person who commented apparently misunderstood my post.

    He is correct that my computer forensics experience is not that same as PI experience. I stated clearly in my post.

    That was my point. PI experience does not qualify anyone to be a forensics expert, which is why I believe that lumping us in with PIs a bad decision on the part of states when it comes to protecting the pubic trust.

    However it is a contradiction to state that PI work and computer forensics are not totally unrelated and then later on state that the computer forensics experience should not count.

    I am well aware of the laws in my state and in other states where I know that I can operate legally. I am not conducting "unlicensed computer forensics investigations"

    I actively participated in the Private Protective Services forums and meetings on licensing in my state.

    The idea that holding a PI license gives a person any kind of expertise in a technical field is dangerous and lends a false credibility that can decieve the public. That is the only reason I am against it.


I have moderated my comments due to spam.