Use of Computers and Software in Law Enforcement Investigations

Introduction

Criminal investigations involves a legal gathering of evidence about are crime that has been committed or is being committed. Unlike in the past, crimes have taken advanced levels owing to the development in technology. An increasing number of people are at risks of losing their funds due to computer hacking, cyber bullying is widely being and instances of child abuse have increased owing to growth of technology (Casey & BS, 2011). The criminal justice department can increase their effectiveness in the fight against these crimes through appropriate technologies. However, though the use of technology in law enforcement provides effective crime investigations, criminals tend to advance in their criminal ways. The adoption and use of technology in law enforcement efforts offers some advantages and disadvantages.

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The Advantages and Disadvantages of Computers / Software in Investigations

            The use of computers provides a more effective way of searching and analysis of huge volumes of data. Thousands of crimes are reported daily and handling such voluminous crimes cases can be challenging as it requires sufficient evidence through analysis of data. Computers/software provides a strategy in which huge data can be collected and analyzed easily, thus speeding investigations and prosecution of criminal cases (Bell, 2002). For example, new data technologies provide virtual image representation of crime scene; the Orasis system for instance provides a way of recreating crime scene.

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            The accurate retrieval of data is important for law enforcement officials. However, criminals have advanced and adopted technology in their criminal tendencies, which enables them to erase any trace of their actions. Computers/software provides a way in which law enforcement can track and retrieve information that criminals delete in the course of their criminal activities. Without computers, it would be difficult to trace and retrieve information especially where criminals format computer drives and destroy mobile devices after their criminal activities. With technology, the legal professionals are now able to produce data, which was previously impossible without the aid of computers.

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            Moreover, the use of technology provides benefits to the local, state and federal investigative agencies through reduction in evidence processing time, enhancement of accuracy and incorporation of audio and images into one entity, leading to cost and time savings (Bell, 2002). Finger prints, image identity and DNA tests can be analyzed easily through the use of computer software. This helps in fast and reliable identification and prosecution of criminal cases where the criminals could otherwise be hard to identify. A good example on how computer/software can be useful in such cases are the child pornography cases and in rape. In such instances, the computer aided DNA tests and image analysis can be very effective in collecting the data regarding the offenders.

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            Although technology provides benefits to the law enforcement agencies, it has its own drawbacks. The major challenge in the use of technology is making the information collected electronically to be admissible in the court. According to (Casey & BS, 2011, p. 255) crimes are not done in a way that is easy to decipher. For example, criminals can modify data easily, which makes it hard for such data to be admissible in the court as evidence. This offers a disadvantage to the use of technology in law enforcement as the data may be distorted or modified, making investigations hard to undertake and to prosecute the offenders.

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            The other disadvantage in the use of technology/software in law enforcement is the cost of retrieving data. Computer forensic analysts often hire per hour, with the analysis and data reporting taking fifteen or more hours depending on the nature of the case. In addition, the forensic experts can inadvertently disclose some privilege documents while retrieving data in electronic systems. This may result in legal problems arising from violation of individual privacy rights.

            Moreover, the use of computers/software in investigations is a relatively new development in criminal justice system (Casey & BS, 2011). This makes the evidence admission a difficult task since all the parties to criminal proceeding must have the ability to understand the findings/data collected through computer or software. The legal practitioners, the solicitors, barristers and judges must have knowledge on computer forensics. This may create difficulties in completion of judicial determination of criminal cases.

In addition, it is important that the evidence is recreated in an exact manner, for example registry entries should remain in exact same manner, a task that is difficult to carry out. However, creating an exact forensic image in computer investigation can be a taunting task, the higher the storage capacity of device the more time it takes. Data copying is the initial process; the other aspect is the verification of the integrity of data. Since copying and verification takes longer, a failed verification could lead to a restart of the process, making computer investigations inherently time consuming task.

Cases of Computer used to Commit and to Prosecute Crime

            An example of a case that involved the use of computer to commit crime is the cyber attack that led to lose of millions of dollars. In a case termed the Trident Beach, hackers stole seventy million dollars from 400 banks and organizations in the United States. According to (Engel, 2012) in 2008, a group of hackers compromised the computers of thousands of Americans using “Trojan” bug termed Zeus. Upon clicking email links and certain attachments, Zeus infected the computers of the victims.

            The hackers designed Zeus to zero in to the accounts information and personal details of the victims (Engel, 2012). When the victim entered the bank website, Zeus designed as a key logger program captures the strokes of the passwords and the usernames of the users. It then immediately notifies the hackers through a text message, who then login to the accounts and transfers the funds.

            In a case termed the Dreamboard, which produced and disseminated graphic child sexual abuse, two men pleaded guilty on charges of felony (U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement, 2013). The offenders were found to own and run a website that route traffic through proxy services and use of passwords and aliases to avoid law enforcement detection. With the aid of complex computer network, the identities and the extent of pedophilia, the offenders were caught and prosecuted.

Conclusion            

The U.S of technology is of great importance to the law enforcement efforts. Although the use of computers/software in law enforcement has its own demerits, it provides a huge step towards prevention of criminal activities which continue to advance. As the world move towards a completely digital era, technology cannot be neglected but is fast becoming an integral part of the law enforcement efforts. The law enforcement must continually adopt latest technology as criminal become more and more techno-savvy.

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