Social media is ingrained with our everyday lives. Whether it’s to keep in contact with friends and family, check community events, get news, shop, or just kill a few minutes, most of us are submerged in social media several times a day. We tend to share a large portion of interests and activities on these platforms, and while some people are careful about how they share their information, most Americans still overshare and fail to engage the privacy settings on their social media accounts.
This creates an environment where we learn things about people that we otherwise wouldn’t know. Whether it’s your creepy uncle liking pictures of fitness models on Instagram at two o’clock in the morning, your neighbor’s divorce taking an ugly turn, or your old classmate pushing essential oils on her friends and family, we can casually gather a lot of information about people simply by observing their online behavior.
This environment presents a treasure trove of opportunities for lawyers. These days, litigation often involves some use of social media information. Family law, workers’ compensation, personal injury, labor, malpractice, and several other legal verticals have seen an uptick in the use of evidence derived online. Lawyers are leveraging social media activity to prove infidelity in divorce cases, fraud in disability and workers’ comp cases, as well as a means of vetting potential jurors in both criminal and civil cases.
Because of how valuable social media evidence can be to litigation, it is vitally important that law firms collect it in the most thorough manner possible. Too many law firms are relying on paralegals to go out and mine this data. We LOVE paralegals and work closely with them on a regular basis, but they are not always the best option for eDiscovery investigations, and I will use the rest of this blog to explain why.
Online Investigations Require an Advanced Skill Set
Tracking people down on social media is not as simple as plugging their name into the Facebook search bar and clicking enter. Not only are there usually dozens of people with the same name but you must also consider that many people don’t use their real or full name. Nicknames or first/middle names are almost as common as first/last names. This makes those simple plug and search attempts completely useless more often than not.
After years of conducting these investigations, we understand which rocks need to be flipped and what rabbit holes need to be gone down in order to effectively and efficiently identify hard to find online information. In situations where the subject has done a good job of masking their social media use, we leverage online services, data aggregation websites, and proprietary tools in order to identify personally identifiable information (PII), including the individual’s family members, former roommates, known email addresses, and phone numbers. We then use this information to analyze the accounts of known family members and friends in order to locate the accounts administered by the individual.
We often use highly technical (not to mention wildly expensive) tools to link email addresses and phone numbers to social media registrations. These tools also allow us to directly connect the more anonymous accounts that don’t include personal information or photos to individuals by showing the account was registered with their email address.
As you can see, this process is a bit more complicated than plugging a name into a search bar. Relying on a smart but unqualified employee for your online investigation is likely to result in valuable information being missed and significant time wasted.
Paralegals Cost More Money
As mentioned, online investigations can be both arduous and complicated, requiring a good amount of time, talent and technology. Putting the investigation in the hands of an unqualified paralegal is likely to result in a lot of time spent spinning their wheels and wasting time, which will quickly drive up the amount of hours needed to mine the data (if they’re even able to find it).
Even if the hourly rate of your online investigator is close to that of a paralegal, you are more than likely going to get a better product in less time by going with the professionals, making it both more fruitful and less expensive.
Evidence Collected by Paralegals May Not Be Admissible
Paralegals aren’t an unbiased third party and using one to conduct your online investigation could come back to haunt you should the evidence or process used to collect it be challenged in court. Paralegals working at your firm are unable to testify as an unbiased witness in your case and any challenge to the data they collected could be thrown out by the court.
Professional online investigators, especially those focused on eDiscovery investigations, are an unbiased third party and can testify in court should the need arise. By relying on somebody in-house to conduct these investigations, you are taking a big risk and gambling with you client’s case.
Our PrOSINT Secure team has earned the trust of some of the largest law firms in the world. We have helped law firms optimize their eDiscovery and litigation by discovering social media and web content associated with individuals or litigation matters of interest. All of the content identified in our process is manually verified and presented in a way that helps expedite the legal process for the client. Our prOSINT team uses both open source and proprietary tools and techniques that aid in this process.
Some examples of work prOSINT has performed for clients in the past include:
- Class Action Lawsuits
- Discrimination Lawsuits
- Merger & Acquisition Due Diligence
- Sexual Harassment Lawsuits
- Wrongful Termination Claims
- Disability Claims
- Hostile Work Environment Claims
- Insider Threats
- Intellectual Property & Client Theft
PROSINT Secure is an approved ILTA vendor and is holds the NSA-IAM certification for Open Source Intelligence Gathering. For more information about our online investigative services, contact the author of this article or one of our managing partners directly:
Chief Intelligence Analyst
Secure Network Technologies
Secure Network Technologies