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Preserving Android Evidence
By Craig Ball
When computer forensics was in its infancy, examiners collected evidence from disks by copying their contents byte-for-byte to matching, sterilized disks, creating archival and working copies called “clones.” Cloning drives was inefficient, expensive, and error prone compared to the imaging processes that replaced it. Yet, disk cloning worked for years, and countless cases were made on forensic evidence preserved by cloning and examined on cloned drives.
Now cloning may be coming back not to preserve hard drives but to collect data from mobile devices backed up online, particularly Android phones. If I’m right, it will be only a stopgap technique, but it will also be an effective (if not terribly efficient) conduit by which mobile data preserved online can be collected and analyzed in discovery.
Case in point: Google’s recently expanded offering of cheap-and-easy online backup of Android phones, including SMS and MMS messaging, photos, video, contacts, documents, app data, and more. This is a leap forward for all obliged to place a litigation hold on the contents of Android phones — a process heretofore unreasonably expensive and insufficiently scalable for e-discovery workflows. There just weren’t good ways to facilitate defensible, custodial-directed preservation of Android phone content. Instead, you had to take phones away from users and have a technical expert image them one-by-one.
Business deals are made and scandals fueled over text, as opposed to a physical paper trail. Come litigation time, those electronic records need to be verifiably loaded into a system and reviewed for a number of purposes. Emails, messenger logs, and attachments linked to those communications become subject to review. The challenge for law firms is one of both quantitative and qualitative data validation.
Typically the cost of eDiscovery represents between 20 and 50 percent of total litigation costs and takes as much time as there is data to upload and review. That includes not just the cost of technology and services but expenses associated with the actual review of those files. The costs of paying staff to review those files, for relevancy or privilege, can be staggering. Some sources cite the billable cost of document review attorneys at anywhere from $75 to $150 per hour. As data sizes go up, so does the cost of the review itself.