Sunday, November 30, 2008

Ok, this is getting crazy.

I just saw this article from Australia about some guy that got arrested for child porn for taking pictures of toddlers swimming around in a public pool.


A quote from the article, ""That's the evidence, taking pictures of children in partial undress."

Now, I grant you that this guy was probably pretty creepy. But so far at least, being creepy isn't illegal yet.

What's next? Getting arrested for looking at kids in a public place?

Friday, November 14, 2008

How can you defend those people?

Yes, I stole the title from Mickey Sherman's book. I did buy it and read it and found it quite entertaining.

From time to time, people ask me what I do, and I tell them I am a digital forensics consultant. Which normally elicits a blank stare, so I elaborate and tell them I do forensics on computers and cell phones. Invariably they respond with, "You mean like on CSI?"

Since I have answered this question so many times, now I just go with, "Yes, just like that." If the conversation proceeds beyond that point, they normally ask me what kind of forensics work I do.

And I tell them that I work on everything from murder cases to intellectual property cases to child pornography cases

"So you help to catch people by looking at stuff on their computers?", they ask.

That is where I get to tell them that I specialize in helping to defend people charged with murder or child pornography, by looking at stuff on their computer.

And many times I get the question, "How can you help defend those people?"

So I explain, that to begin with, not everyone who is charged with a crime is guilty. My job is to make sure that all the facts come out and are put into proper context. Few of my questioners understand that the prosecution will always have an expert on their side who has examined the computer evidence and made certain claims about the evidence.

And that if the defense does not have an expert on their side, at least to advise them on how to interpret the forensics report they got from law enforcement, they can be at a serious disadvantage in defending their client.

Interpreting computer evidence is not a simple statement of facts in most cases. Those facts need to be verified and put into the proper context. It's complicated.

When they ask me why I chose to focus so much on the criminal defense side, I explain that in my opinion, that the system is out of balance. That if someone is charged with a serious crime, they are entitled to the best defense they can get since it is going to impact the rest of their life. And in some cases, it can mean the end of their life if they are facing the death penalty.

Coupled with that, if you consider that the majority of attorneys I speak to have little idea about computer forensics, defense attorneys are in dire straits without a defense expert. I have spent the last several years teaching private attorneys and public defenders about computer forensics and the impact that it can have on their cases.

There is a serious knowledge gap in existence in regard to computer forensics in the legal community and that needs to change quickly to make sure that innocent people don't go to jail because the defense counsel didn't understand that a computer forensics report is not always a clear statement of facts. Or because the defense counsel didn't understand the need to employ an expert, even if the expert only reads the report to advise them, without doing a separate analysis.

In many instances, attorneys don't even know that defense experts exist for computer forensics.

Unlike some of the other forensic sciences that deal with other types of evidence, such as DNA, computer forensics can reach into all corners of a case, especially a murder case or conspiracy to commit murder case. I have worked and continue to work on many of these cases. Every time I work a new case, I find that the need for a defense expert is not only a nice to have, but a must have, if the defense is going to be able to properly understand the ramifications of what the law enforcement computer forensics analyst has reported in the case.

When you stop to consider how much information people process through their computers and cell phones these days, realizing that this is a rich source of evidence to be used for or against someone is vital in properly preparing a case, on both sides of the aisle.

While I do other types of cases, civil and domestic and employment, my focus has been and will continue to be in the criminal defense arena.

How can I help defend those people? Because someone must or the system will simply be too lopsided for justice to be served.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Parents need to wake up! Keeping your kids safe on the Internet is your responsibility.

I can't count the number of times I have had someone tell me, “My eleven year old is better at computers than I am.”

If that is really the case, then maybe parents need to take some time out of their busy schedules to take a few computer classes, or if not, don't allow computers in the home that are connected to the Internet.

You see, the reality is this: If you can't figure out what your child is doing on the Internet, you probably should not have it in your home.

While in my opinion, some of the legislation to protect children is going too far and becoming too big-brother for my taste and the penalties for certain crimes are becoming draconian to the point of being cruel and unusual punishment, none of this seems to be curtailing the use of the Internet by predators and purveyors of child porn.

And while those activities are particularly heinous, the Internet opens up children and teens to a whole range of potentially bad things like cyber-bullying, illegal activities they can get into such as downloading stolen music and movies, and access to new “friends” you probably would rather they not hang out with.

I was reading a random message board the other day and saw a thread by a fifteen year old boy concerned because his mother had discovered his downloaded porn. Now, while fifteen year old boys will be curious, he was looking for porn involving people his own age and had downloaded child porn via Limewire. Lucky for him his parents found it rather than ICE or one of the many Operation Fairplay investigations going on that monitors the network Limewire uses to search for keywords connected to CP. Otherwise, instead of getting grounded, he would have gotten arrested.

So parents, if you insist on allowing your kids to have access to the Internet via your home computer and cannot grasp enough of the technology to check on what they are doing, here are some tips to keep your kids safe on-line:

  1. Never, ever allow your kids to have a computer connected to the Internet in a private place in the home, such as their bedrooms.
  2. Keep the computer that is connected to the Internet in a public, well traveled area in your home.
  3. Restrict the time they are allowed to be on the Internet.
  4. If you bought them a game console like an X-Box or PlayStation, make sure you know if it is connected to the Internet and follow the same rules for it as you do the home computer.
  5. If you are not computer savvy, then have someone who is take a look at the computer once in a while and have them remove applications like Limewire, or any other file sharing applications from the computer.
  6. If you allow your kids to have Myspace or Facebook pages, make sure you have an account as well and you are on their friends list so you can monitor their pages. If you don't understand the whole Myspace thing, sit down with your child and have them show you their page and help you set up an account so you can be one of their friends.
  7. Install or have someone install a monitoring program on the home computer like CyberPatrol or Net Nanny that will allow you to set what they can do on-line.
  8. Set up or have someone set up separate user profiles for you and the kids and keep your password secret from them and their password should be known by you. That way you can set the monitoring software (CyberPatrol or Net Nanny) to give them access to what you want them to have access too while not restricting your access to the Internet.
  9. Make sure your kids know that they have no right to privacy from you on the computer and that you will be monitoring their activities.

While the Internet is an awesome tool for research, hobbies, connecting and many other good things, it is also a conduit to many bad things. I have said many times that when history looks back on this age, the Internet will be considered to be the best and worst thing to happen to society, and I believe it.

Check your local area for Internet safety classes and attend them, both for your child's sake and your own. These are typically offered by local law enforcement agencies.

Here are some links to other resources:

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Hats off to the Fair Trial Initiative and remembering an old friend.

I was surfing around and decided to visit the web site for the Fair Trial Initiative. This is a great service to people accused of capital offenses and the attorneys who represent them. I had the pleasure to work with two of the fellows on the NC vs. Mark A. Bowling case. They are very dedicated lawyers who made a difference for the defense team. I applaud this program and these young attorneys who serve.

I look forward to working with more of these dedicated young lawyers on current and future capital cases where I am part of the defense team.

I did not realize that this program honors capital defenders with the J. Kirk Osborne award or that these lawyers were Osborne Fellows.

I had the pleasure not only to work on two capital cases with Kirk Osborne, (NC vs. Michelle Theer and NC vs. Jerry Lynn Stuart), but also the honor of naming this man as a friend.

Sadly, Kirk passed away suddenly during the period he was working on the Duke Lacrosse case. Like everyone who knew him, I was shocked and saddened at his passing.

Kirk Osborne was one of the most dedicated and skilled attorneys I have had the pleasure to get to know and the honor to work with over the years that I have assisted with capital defense cases.