Digital document being analyzed

Sealing the leaks: how to create an airtight case

December 01, 2021

Sealing the leaks: how to create an airtight case

Synopsis
6 Minute Read

Disparate and dirty data can significantly slow down forensic investigations. Here’s how digital data reconstruction can help.

A typical investigation can uncover potentially millions of relevant datapoints from which lawyers and forensic specialists can often glean a compelling narrative to prove or disprove instances of impropriety. Careful preparation before the analysis is paramount to connect the dots and accurately weave the narrative together.

The investigator’s job would be easy if all this data existed in a common format and language. Though, rarely is anyone so lucky.

It’s more common to encounter a range of physical and digital documents, emails, database logs, internet browser history, phone records, etc. — formats which typically aren’t compatible with one another. There may also be data integrity issues, a difference in recordkeeping principles, or even difficult or unfamiliar file types.

These challenges can all make it difficult to readily transfer the data to a common excel spreadsheet or analytics tool where the investigator can then begin to uncover common patterns and trends.

Some assembly required

This is where data reconstruction — the process of translating structured and unstructured data from its native format to one that’s common, functional, and fit for purpose — comes in. This may include extracting select information from electronic files, translating data from one file type to another — or even scanning large volumes of paper records, parsing out key details, and extracting these to a digital format. 

Preparation, or reconstruction, has always been a pre-requisite to analyzing forensic data. Until recently, however, the process has largely been manual. It required a person or team of people to meticulously review each source and re-enter and/or convert the data to the desired format.

But while this step solves one challenge, it introduces several others: For one, the work is often slow and tedious. Even a large and skilled group of data entry clerks could take weeks or months to reconstruct a sizable dataset. It also leaves a significant margin for errors and other corruptions in the data, which is a major risk when even the smallest oversight could jeopardize the case in litigation.

The biggest problem, though, is manual reconstruction is rapidly becoming impractical and prohibitively costly as people and organizations continue to generate an ever larger and complex data trail.

The investigator’s Rosetta Stone

In comparison, applications such as a high-quality optical character recognition (OCR) program and data extraction software can parse and reformat incompatible datasets in a handful of hours. This allows investigators to divert precious time and resources to more value-oriented tasks such as analyzing the reconstructed data for fraud or ethical breaches.

OCR programs and other advanced reformatting tools are also far more accurate than their human counterparts and can recognize a much wider range of file types and computer languages. Most importantly, they’re customizable to the investigator’s need and specific use cases. As needs change or technology evolves, it’s relatively straightforward to enhance the existing tools or ladder up to more advanced analytics capabilities to uncover even more granular insights from the clean data. With the advent of artificial intelligence and machine-learning, many of these systems continuously improve themselves and the output used by the investigator.

The urgency is growing, and so is the upside

The gap is rapidly widening between the vast troves of data that organizations are generating and the ability for forensic investigators to locate, consolidate, and make sense of it all. While the process of finding evidentiary data very much remains an ongoing challenge for investigators, data reconstruction tools can drastically accelerate the process of making all that information speak a common and compelling language.

This kind of digital capability can also significantly cut down on the amount of human resourcing and specialist support required to effect an investigation or litigation process — while significantly increasing confidence around the quality of findings and how they’re presented in a proceeding.

Contact us

For more information, contact Larisa Andrushko, Manager, Forensic and Litigation Support, at 604.637.1553 or [email protected].

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