Preserving digital evidence (PDE) is crucial when dealing with situations involving harassment, cyberbullying, or any form of online abuse. It ensures that important information is documented and can be used for legal purposes if necessary. Whether you’re a survivor seeking justice or someone looking to support someone in need, here are seven tips for effectively preserving digital evidence.
1. Documenting Messages
When capturing messages, there are several steps you can take to ensure their preservation. Start by taking a screenshot and saving it to your device’s camera roll. However, be cautious if the perpetrator has access to your photographs. In such cases, consider using another camera to take a photo of the screen. To avoid losing the evidence, have backups of the screenshot or photo. You can share the image with a trusted person or store it in a secure location. Be mindful of the perpetrator’s potential access to your email or storage account, as they might try to delete or tamper with the evidence. Additionally, screen recording can be a useful method.
2. What to Include
When capturing conversations, make sure you gather all the relevant information. This includes capturing the entire conversation, noting the contact phone number, and documenting the date and time stamp of each message. If the conversation is lengthy, consider overlapping the text to ensure readability and continuity.
3. Capture Evidence Immediately
Digital content can be easily deleted or manipulated, so it’s crucial to capture evidence as soon as possible. Social media posts can vanish with a simple click, and text messages may be deleted from cloud storage. Some platforms even delete messages once they are read. If you block someone on platforms like Instagram, you lose access to your direct messages with the perpetrator. Utilize various apps that allow you to transfer data from your smartphone to a PC. Additionally, consider obtaining records related to the perpetrator such as financial statements, phone records, or account information (only if it is safe to do so).
4. Refrain from Posting Evidence Online
While it might be tempting to share evidence online to seek support or raise awareness, avoid doing so. Posting evidence can alert the perpetrator to your actions, giving them an opportunity to destroy or manipulate evidence on their end. It can also hinder law enforcement’s ability to collect crucial evidence for potential criminal investigations. Keep your evidence confidential and only share it with trusted individuals or authorities.
5. Safekeeping Evidence
Ensure that the evidence you gather remains secure and inaccessible to the perpetrator. Save it onto a device they cannot access, such as a separate computer or cloud storage with strong security measures. Change passwords for all your accounts and devices to prevent unauthorized access. If necessary, print out digital evidence and store it in a safe place. Remember, digital evidence can also be compromised if the device it is stored on is lost, stolen, or damaged.
6. Additional Safety Tips
In addition to preserving evidence, there are other safety measures you can take to protect yourself. Consider printing out the conversation and storing it in a secure location. Avoid altering the document, as any modifications could be called into question later. To maintain privacy and separate your communications with the perpetrator, create a new email account solely for those interactions. If communicating via email, start new conversations with new subject lines regularly to keep them organized.
7. Have Strategies in Place
If you are a survivor of online abuse, take proactive measures to safeguard your digital presence.
- Secure your existing devices and accounts by using strong and unique passwords.
- Familiarize yourself with the privacy and security settings of your online accounts and review them regularly.
- Social media platforms often offer options to delete, block, mute, report, or leave a conversation or group.
- Use available technology strategically, such as password protection and turning off location settings when not in use.
- Review your installed apps and delete or disable access to the “Find my Friends” feature to prevent potential tracking.
- Regularly clear your search history or use private browsing modes to maintain your online privacy.
- Set up alerts for any suspicious activities on your accounts or devices.
- Remember, if you or someone you know has had an intimate image shared online without consent, seek support from organizations like stopNCII.org, which specialize in helping victims of non-consensual image sharing.
By following these seven tips for preserving digital evidence, you can enhance your chances of effectively documenting and securing crucial information. Remember, it’s essential to consult legal professionals or authorities for guidance specific to your situation. Safeguarding digital evidence plays a vital role in ensuring accountability, protecting victims, and promoting a safer online environment for all.