Albert Soler is a Director within the FTI Technology team in Spain, and an experienced digital forensics and e-discovery professional who helps clients uncover insights from digital evidence. In this Q&A, he discusses how emerging data sources are impacting the practice of digital forensics and e-discovery.
Albert, what’s your background in the disputes and investigations field and what types of issues do you focus on in client engagements?
I have a strong background in technological investigations and providing expert insights into digital evidence. I manage end-to-end e-discovery processes, including data collection, preservation, processing, review and production, ensuring compliance with legal requirements and industry standards. This work has provided me with a deep understanding of forensic tools, methodologies and best practices, coupled with a comprehensive knowledge of data acquisition, analysis and preservation techniques.
I work closely with law firms and corporate clients domestically and internationally to support complex and multi-jurisdictional litigation cases and technologically complex investigations, as well as preparing expert witness reports. More recently, my work has increasingly shifted to handling cloud-based emerging data sources and helping clients navigate the challenges of forensic investigations involving evidence residing on smartphones.
Let’s talk more about that last point, how emerging data sources are changing digital forensic and e-discovery methodologies. What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen?
Data from cloud sources — such as collaboration tools, productivity suites and file sharing applications — is now prevalent in essentially every case we handle. This is true for the matters that are contained to Spanish clients, as well as our multinational engagements.
Each cloud application has unique data limitations, formats, metadata and collection complexities, which means that our teams are navigating potentially hundreds or thousands of data nuances in a single investigation. We often need to create bespoke solutions and leverage application programming interfaces (APIs) to collect data and develop custom workflows for processing the data so that it’s searchable and compatible with investigations and discovery tools.
You also mentioned smartphones — how are personal devices complicating investigations?
Digital forensic investigators have long grappled with an array of challenges relating to collecting data from personal devices and smartphones. The new issues are driven by two specific changes in employee behaviors—that people are increasingly blurring the lines between the personal and work uses of their devices, and ephemeral or encrypted messaging applications such as WhatsApp and Signal have become ubiquitous.
The intermingling of personal and work-related communications and data on a device raises the sensitivity of collecting from the device and respecting data privacy rights. This can be a very sensitive issue for some people when their devices must be forensically imaged. While it’s not necessarily a new issue, it has become more common and nuanced.
Further, it can be very difficult, or impossible in some scenarios, to acquire copies of messages and chat threads sent and received via ephemeral messaging applications. We use a combination of tools, which provide some standard capabilities, and our internal technical expertise, to create workarounds for this issue, so that our clients have an opportunity to collect and review all information potentially relevant to an investigation.
Are any challenges specific to the market in Spain?
Generally, the market here is less mature than in the U.S. or the U.K. with regard to recognizing emerging data sources as impactful to regulatory and legal matters, as well as in understanding the technical complexities of collecting, processing and reviewing emerging data sources. It’s often challenging for clients to understand why data from Microsoft Teams or WhatsApp is more difficult and time-intensive to address across all phases of an investigation and the e-discovery process.
Nevertheless, inquiries from government agencies, competition authorities and litigations are increasingly including data from mobile devices and cloud sources within their scope. We’re working to help bring more awareness to these issues. Attorneys need to understand the new reality that this data will be a part of their future investigations, and the risks that come along with that.
Additionally, organizations need to be aware of these issues for internal compliance and internal investigations purposes. Without an awareness that pertinent information is being exchanged and documented across these channels, and that it’s possible to monitor and analyze them, organizations have a blind spot to activity that could later cause significant legal and regulatory problems.
Is there a real world example you can share from your recent engagements?
In one matter that spanned Spain and the U.S., we had to extract data from Signal. The opposing party said doing so would be impossible, and had resorted to using poor quality screenshots of chat messages. We explained to the client what we could do with our custom solutions and workflows, and the attorneys were astonished that we were able to retrieve the relevant messages and review them in the context of other documents and data related to the case.
The views expressed herein are those of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of FTI Consulting, its management, its subsidiaries, its affiliates, or its other professionals.