While encryption is frequently cited as an obstacle to law enforcement agencies using digital evidence, the inability to access unencrypted data is a larger problem, according to a report published today by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“Our survey of federal, state, and local law enforcement officials suggests that challenges in accessing data from service providers — much of which is not encrypted — is the biggest problem that they currently face in terms of their ability to use digital evidence in their cases,” said the report, titled “Low-Hanging Fruit: Evidence-Based Solutions to the Digital Evidence Challenge.”
“Specifically, the inability to effectively identify which service providers have access to relevant data was ranked as the number-one obstacle in being able to effectively use digital evidence in particular cases,” the report said.
The report notes that efforts to teach law enforcement officials how to effectively gather digital evidence are disjointed and underfunded. It calls for the establishment of a National Digital Evidence Office that would work with law enforcement and tech companies to make it simpler to fulfill lawful requests for electronic data.
“There is much work that can and should be done to facilitate law enforcement access to data that is unencrypted or otherwise available in a way that is consistent with privacy and civil liberties, even as the policy discussions about potential decryption mandates, lawful hacking, and data retention continue,” the report said.
The report’s authors — William Carter, deputy director of the Technology Policy Program at CSIS, Jennifer Daskal, a senior associate in the Technology Policy Program, and William Crumpler, a research assistant with the Technology Policy Program — interviewed law enforcement officials, tech company representatives, and members of civil society and reviewed budget and training documents. —Tom Leithauser, firstname.lastname@example.org