Digital forensics

Computer Forensics: Civil Investigations

Hannah George
February 22, 2018 by
Hannah George

The Role of Computer Forensics in Civil Investigations

The use of Computer forensics in civil investigations is a little different when compared to criminal cases. There are different standards for collecting data and presenting the evidence in a court of law.

Civil litigation covers everything from the violation of a contract to a lawsuit between two or more parties. The one who loses the case often has to give payment, services or property to the winning party, also known as the prevailing party.

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Civil cases do not deal with penal sanctions. The standards for evidence are not that high when compared to criminal cases. Divorce and custody cases are two of the most common civil proceedings in which computer forensics is used. As these cases often prolong for a long period of time, both parties often start gathering information on each other even before filing for divorce. How this particular information is gathered is usually the subject of interest to the computer forensic investigator.

How does Computer Forensics in civil investigations differ from criminal investigations?

In the case of civil investigations, law enforcement may have limited to no involvement in the proceeding. Secondly, there is a different standard for the burden of proof. Thirdly, the forensic investigation is administered by the order of the court of law. Because of this, the forensic techniques and procedures used for the investigations may differ from one case to another and from one jurisdiction to another.

The Complexities of Civil Investigations

For civil investigations, there is a lot of negotiation over what data can be inspected; what devices can be checked for; and where and when they can be looked at. However, for criminal investigations, it is easier as the investigator is given a search warrant, and thus, he or she can seize the computer of the defendant by all means that are deemed to be necessary.

However, this is not permissible in the case of civil investigations. For example, a request to inspect the computer has to be made first and then the computer is handed over; this can be a time-consuming task.

During this time frame, the defendant may destroy or hide the data before the plaintiff even gets the opportunity to inspect it. Usually In civil cases, preliminary electronic discovery is done to show the other party whether they are likely to win or if even the case even should go to trial. This data is presented in an informal format because its purpose is to make the parties agree on a possible case settlement.

Since most of the civil cases have a financial aspect, the orders from the court to perform the computer forensic investigations have both data and time constraints. Thus, some artifacts or information may be eliminated from the case by the court order.

The court requires the forensic investigator to take a complete image of the evidence and then filter the findings based on the order constraints. Sometimes, the initial draft of the finding is given to the opposing counsel to make sure that it has met the standards of the court order before. This can be a risky process as the information from the forensics investigation can be leaked. In order to reduce this risk, the forensic investigation process should be supervised.

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Here are some of the means by which the forensics information and data can be collected in civil investigations:

  • On-site collection

Data is collected from computers, servers, and cell phones. The data gathered is then organized in a court-approved manner.

  • Remote collection

This is a similar to on-site collection but the major difference is that is much smaller in nature. The network is accessed to gather the necessary information and data.

  • Cloud collection

As the name suggests, in this type of collection, data is gathered from Cloud based sources such as Google Drive, Dropbox, Gmail, Yahoo etc.

  • Social media gatherings

This is the information and data which is collected from social media platforms like YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

  • Mobile device data collection

Various tools are used to gather the information and data from cell phones and tablets. It also involves recovering deleted text messages and calls.


Whether it is a civil case or a criminal case, all law enforcement officers are expected to have a basic understanding of computer forensics. In this new millennium, both digital investigations and computer forensics have become a crucial part of civil or even criminal investigations.

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Even though there are some issues in using computer forensics for civil investigations, the evidence gathered can be as valuable as in the criminal proceedings. This is contingent if the collection procedures are used in the prescribed format

Hannah George
Hannah George

I am Hannah George. I am positivity engager, tech blogger & coffee addict. I have a degree in Journalism and Modern Greek Studies from San Francisco State University. Writing is my passion and I write about tech news, trends, new apps and other tangentially related topics with a particular interest in wearables and exercise tech. When I am not writing, I go out biking on long trails. I live in San Francisco with my pet cat Sushi.