Mobile forensics pro a valuable ally in family law disputes
By Paul Russell, AdvocateDaily.com Contributor
Smartphones and social media applications help people stay connected, but they can also facilitate online harassment and spying once a relationship breaks down, says Tyler Hatch, founder and CEO of DFI Forensics Inc.
“Technology permeates every aspect of our lives, and people who want to do harmful things to others are finding new ways to do it,” says Hatch, who recently received certification as a mobile forensics examiner and frequently works with clients involved in family law disputes.
It’s not uncommon for couples to know each other’s passwords for social media accounts and electronics, he says.
“Maybe they were sharing a computer, and they just have to click on that other person’s profile on Facebook, and it comes up because it’s already a trusted device,” Hatch tells AdvocateDaily.com.
“After they break up, one may start posting embarrassing status updates on the other’s account, which will be seen by that person’s close circle of friends, even if it’s taken down reasonably quickly,” he says.
Calling it an “abuse of a previous trust,” Hatch says he is always surprised by the material that gets posted in this fashion.
“Some of it is really mean and malicious content that’s meant to damage someone’s reputation, and embarrass them,” he says.
Hatch says people have been charged for posting damaging material to someone else’s online profile or social media account.
“It’s a criminal invasion of privacy, no different than logging into somebody’s private bank account,” he says. “Just because it’s a social media account doesn’t mean it’s less of a criminal offence when you’re accessing something you’re not authorized to,” Hatch adds.
When couples separate, he says they often rely on text messaging or social media to communicate.
“As we all know, those messages can be difficult to interpret, Hatch says. “Maybe the way it reads really isn’t what the person intended, and things get heated pretty quickly.”
Once tensions flare, people may send out angry responses that “they don’t really mean,” he says, and those words could come back to haunt them if the separation ends up in a court case.
DFI Forensics helps people retrieve those digital communications and present them to a family court in a professional, objective manner, Hatch says.
“Having them delivered by an independent third party who was not part of the conversation removes any taint of bias,” he says.
The presence of spyware on a phone or computer is another concern for people after a breakup, especially if the ex-spouse had access to the electronics while the couple lived together, Hatch says.
“Many people come to us, suspicious and quite frightened, that their partner is learning things about them that they wouldn’t otherwise know if they were not somehow tracking them through their phone or computer,” he says. “That’s very frightening for people as they lose their sense of privacy.”
Hatch says there is a “massive amount of readily available spyware” for sale on the internet that people can use to record conversations or track a person’s movements.
“After a breakup, the first thing you want to do is password-protect your cellphone, or change your password if your former partner knew it,” he says, adding that should include updating social media passwords.
“Two-factor or multifactor authentication is hands down the quickest, most effective way to lock down your online accounts,” Hatch says.
With this form of verification, when someone tries to log into the account, a code is sent to your cellphone that needs to be entered before access is granted, he says.
“It’s the easiest, most effective way, to make sure that anybody who is accessing the account is actually authorized by you,” says Hatch. “People who aren’t sure how to set this up are welcome to contact DFI Forensics, and someone from our team can walk them through it in a quick conversation, alleviating their concerns.”
He cautions against relying on advice found online, as that may only compound fears and uncertainty.
“If people think someone is spying on them, they will find a wide range of answers on the internet, as they slide down the Google rabbit hole,” Hatch says.
“They will think they have a huge problem, though it may not be, which is why it is always best to consult someone with expertise who can separate fact from fiction and get to the root of the problem,” Hatch says.