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US laws restrict computer forensics to gumshoes

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More US states are moving towards laws that limit computer forensics work to those with Private Investigator licences, or people contracted to work for licensed investigative agencies.

Pending legislation in South Carolina would limit the specialist work of capturing and making sense of evidence on computer discs and server logs to businesses whose main line of work is serving legal process or matrimonial investigations. The bill covers computers forensic evidence presented in court.

Computer evidence compiled by unlicensed practitioners would be excluded from admission in either civil or criminal cases under the regulation. Those caught practicing without a licence to collect evidence for court (though not on a private basis) could face criminal prosecution.

Enterprises or private individuals would still be free to hire anyone they choose for private investigations. Computer forensics is often used as an internal investigatory tool following computer intrusions, or in response to suspicion of staff misuse of internet resources.

Georgia, New York, Nevada, North Carolina, Texas, Virginia and Washington already have similar legislation, Baseline Magazine reports. The idea is that by restricting the preparation of computer forensics work for presentation in court promotes higher standards and keeps out the cowboys.

However, expecting computer forensics experts to have a PI licence makes about as much sense as requiring PIs to have computer science degrees. Most private investigators come from a police or forces background. The regulations smack of protectionism.

Commonly, specialist agencies handle IT-related work such as counter-surveillance and forensic examination. Data recovery firms and others with computer forensics expertise may be equally capable in preserving and processing computer evidence, but are locked out of the business in the US, unlike other countries such as the UK where such firms are typically swamped with work. ®

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