Divorce is changing and developing right alongside society. Anyone who has been through a divorce can tell you that it is often a lengthy and emotional process. Cases with high conflict are even more arduous.
Add electronically stored information (ESI) to the picture and you've got the recipe for a perfect storm. ESI, or electronically stored information, can be used as evidence in a variety of cases. Digital forensics is used to collect, analyze and report on the information. For many computer forensics experts, a digital footprint is the starting place to collect ESI.
What is a Digital Footprint?
You leave behind a mark each time you use an electronic device just as you do every time you pick up or use something physically. Your activities and online behavior can be gathered, analyzed and presented as evidence if need be in a court of law.
Just what things can be considered a digital footprint? Check out the following:
- Text messages, group chats and instant messages
- Comments on social media and status updates
- Skype calls and chats
- Searches via Google and other engines
- Online purchases and shopping
- Bank transactions
- Photographs and videos
- Activity in applications
Of course, this is a mere sample of the online activity we participate in daily. Keep in mind deleted activity can be retrieved and even damaged or lost data can be restored.
Digital footprints vary from device to device. According to the Internet Society, smart phones and tablets leave behind more "intrusive" footprints, meaning your data is more accessible to vendors, network operators and other service providers. Your overall ability to be anonymous is reduced when using mobile devices. Location data and the identifiers that come with smart phones (eg. SIM card serial number, IMEIs, associated phone number) play a large role in this reduced anonymity.
That doesn't mean you don't leave behind data when using other devices like laptops. However, it is easier to control and limit the sharing of your personal information thanks to privacy settings.
How Can My Digital Footprint Affect My Divorce Case?
First, realize that you may be required to preserve and present digital data for a divorce case. Second, you yourself may want to use digital forensics to prove or refute a matter.
ESI may used to demonstrate or prove the following:
- Hacking and/or stalking
- Threats and abuse
- Child neglect and/or abuse
- Underreported income or financial dishonesty
- Tax evasion
Facebook is particularly dangerous. In fact, nearly 1/3 of divorce cases these days include information from the popular social media network. Users may post status updates that contradict previous statements. Likewise, chats, photos and geo tagged data may be used to prove adultery. Abusive messages and threats can also be used against you in court. While you may no longer be Facebook friends with your ex and use privacy settings, the information remains accessible.
How Can I Best Protect My Privacy Online?
Common sense is the best place to start. Don't post or do anything you wouldn't want read, reread and analyzed by strangers. Be careful about revealing information online that you would prefer to keep to yourself.
Beyond the obvious, there are some precautions to take. Here's how to best manage your digital footprint:
- Frequently reset passwords and do not use the same one for multiple accounts
- Avoid using passwords that are easy to guess
- Google yourself occasionally to review posted material
- Avoid using your full name on forums and chats
- Use your privacy settings to review any photo or status you're tagged in before publishing it officially to your wall or news feed
- Do not share your location unless absolutely necessary
- Review old tagged photographs and past status updates
- Generally, avoid sharing or posting anything that does not paint you in a flattering light
Of course, what's been posted can be never be truly erased. However, you can delete material so it is not in plain sight. Once you've audited your digital footprint, you can take greater care and caution with the marks you leave behind.
How to Find the Right Representation
It isn't enough for your lawyer to be well-versed in family law. To get the representation you deserve, you'll need a law firm experienced in digital forensics. Law Offices of Renee Lazar, a firm with a concentration in family law knows how gather and use ESI as critical evidence during trials. To connect with this Massachusetts law firm and discuss your case, either call 978-844-4095 or email to schedule a free one hour consultation.