Using EXIF GPS information from a camera in eDiscovery / eDisclosure

The product description of Guidance Software’s EXIF GPS Information Reader helps explain why your camera may be recording more information you think. You need a) to remember to think about it b) to know that it is capable of collection c) know someone who knows how to collect it and d) apply the brain to interpreting and evaluating it.

A subject which recurs at the moment is the data which is created by the devices which we carry around with us and which may be secretly recording our every move. “Secretly” does not necessarily imply an NSA operative silently capturing our “I’m on the train” messages, nor shysters running social media sites in order to sell our souls to other shysters for marketing purposes, but may include basic information which records where we are, primarily for our own use (even if we don’t know it is there).

This was covered in a webinar called Is there anything worth requesting? which I did recently with iCONECT (the webinar itself is here ) and at a panel in Prague. It also turns up in a useful article by Sharon Nelson and John Simek called Metadata in Digital Photos – should you care? which includes the story of fugitive software boss John McAfee, who was tracked down to Guatamala by the EXIF information captured by a journalist’s camera.

I do not usually post technical documents of the kind which are aimed at those who actually work with the data. I make an exception for Guidance Software’s EXIF GPS Information Reader which I came across in the EnCase App Central catalogue.

I bring it to your attention as part of a general campaign to remind us that the purpose of eDiscovery /eDisclosure is the uncovering of evidence and not merely a set of processes aimed at compliance with court rules or regulatory requirements. Increasingly, evidence lies in new and often overlooked sources such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, or in information collected by smartphones and tablets, often without our knowing about it. It is easy to overlook the potential significance of the data captured by fairly ordinary cameras – not just photographic details such as shutter speed and aperture, but GPS (Global Positioning System) data which can pin a device to a place as well as a time.

Here is an example of the geographical information for one of my own photographs.

EXIF NashvilleAnd here (by way of light relief from mere words) is the location – the Pedestrian Bridge at Nashville with, on the far side, the venue for Cicayda’s excellent RELEvent un-conference a few weeks ago.

Pedestrian Bridge Nashville

The GPS information is of the location from which the photograph was taken, not the view itself, and if you search for 36 9′ 49.96″ N 86 46′ 29.72″ W in Google Earth or Google Maps you go straight to the spot at which I was standing when I took the picture. If you had a copy of my boarding pass, you would see that I was on a plane to Chicago at 14:32:03 (the time included in the EXIF information), and you would use that other fine piece of technology, the brain, to deduce that my camera was set to UK time. A time zone adjustment would put the time at 08:32:02, which fits with an event starting at 09.00.

My camera, as it happens, is not GPS-enabled, and I identified the location by dragging the picture to a place on a map. The data which results, including the latitude and longitude and, as supplementary information, the name of the place, were all brought in from that primary location information. A GPS-enabled camera will store it all.

The EnCase EXIF GPS Information Reader allows investigators to do just that – read the GPS information. This may form part of a detailed investigation, for example following an accident, when the GPS and other information may confirm that the photograph is of what it purports to be and that it was taken contemporaneously.

It may be much more simple than that – perhaps an employee denies that he or she was present at a particular place, something which may be disproved by a simple photograph. Such evidence may do the reverse, and prove that the employee (or, at least, his or her camera) was somewhere other than the place identified in a witness statement.

Such data needs to be collected with the same defensible skill as any other electronic data. The information in the page about the EnCase EXIF GPS Information Reader may be slightly technical (that is its purpose), but it explains clearly what can be achieved with a tool like this. Lawyers do not need to know how to collect this data, but they need to know that it can be collected. Before that, of course, they need to be aware that it exists at all and is potentially discoverable.

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About Chris Dale

I have been an English solicitor since 1980. I run the e-Disclosure Information Project which collects and comments on information about electronic disclosure / eDiscovery and related subjects in the UK, the US, AsiaPac and elsewhere
This entry was posted in Cicayda, Discovery, eDisclosure, eDiscovery, Electronic disclosure, Guidance Software, iCONECT. Bookmark the permalink.

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