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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Digital Evidence Investigators Required to be Licensed PI's!

We are witnessing a very interesting and disturbing trend in the digital evidence domain. Many states are enacting or amending legislation that will require anyone conducting any type of an "investigation" where a computer is involved to be licensed as a Private Investigator – Michigan being one of the latest examples. This is interesting as it was predicted several years ago that, unless the digital evidence community came up with some sort of gold standard/professional designation with a professional code of ethics, the ability to censure unethical professionals etc. the government would intercede with a less than perfect knee jerk reaction in order to protect consumers of these services.

The American Bar Association has taken a stand on this issue and the Science & Technology Law Section has issued a resolution arguing against this requirement:



RESOLVED, That the American Bar Association urges State, local and territorial legislatures, State regulatory agencies, and other relevant government agencies or entities, to refrain from requiring private investigator licenses for persons engaged in:

computer or digital forensic services or in the acquisition, review, or analysis of digital or computer-based information, whether for purposes of obtaining or furnishing information for evidentiary or other purposes, or for providing expert testimony before a court; or

network or system vulnerability testing, including network scans and risk assessment and analysis of computers connected to a network.

FURTHER RESOLVED, That the American Bar Association supports efforts to establish professional certification or competency requirements for such activities based upon the current state of technology and science.

Unfortunately it appears that most states are ignoring the advise of the scientific and legal community. The cynical side of my nature wonders whether the motivation for moving toward the PI License requirement is driven primarily by an economic motive (It appears that the PI community has a strong lobbying presence in many of the states that have already passed these requirements) as opposed to any real concern over an unregulated "industry" and consumer protection.

This issue is shaping up to be a watershed event for the digital evidence community and the final outcome will have a long lasting impact on this maturing field.

In case you were wondering, there is a concerted effort underway to address the issue of a neutral, board like certification for digital evidence professionals supported by the forensic science accreditation board. The Digital Forensics Certification Board ( housed at the University of Central Florida's National Center for Forensic Science will offer its certification exam early in the spring of this year. This non-partisan body represents the collective effort of law enforcement, private sector, government, military and academia. For the sake of full disclosure, yes I am part of this effort.

More information about this effort will be presented at the Digital Sciences & Multimedia Section of American Academy of Forensic Sciences Annual Meeting in Colorado this February.


  1. That is very interesting. It will definitely have an impact on academia in some sort of way. The Daubert process requires a scientific way of acquiring and analyzing the evidence doesn't it? Well, what if the method used by the investigator, who is also a PI - who does not have a strong academic background, stand up as an expert witness and talk about the scientific validity of the method that was used? Is that PI qualified to answer that question? Just a thought I had while I read what you wrote...Maybe its a moot question, is it?

  2. I really believe that DFCB certification will succeed.
    Here in Brazil we have (ISC)2 certifications as reference of professional ethics and expertise.
    It is hard to imagine that a "license" would overbalance a certification that offers standards consistent with the state-of-art of science and technology.
    Wishing the best in this effort and hoping that DFCB certification may soon be expanded to other countries. It would be welcome.