Portable Evidence Capture

How do you capture social media evidence in a way that is bullet proof AND sufficiently “do it yourself” and cheap that anyone can do it?  This was a question I asked myself as I was preparing for a social media evidence session that I was asked to present for the Ontario Bar Association – the materials are here.

This is going to get a bit goofy so apologies up front.  It’s also not an original idea, but I can’t find the site that inspired me in the first place.

As I lay out in my materials, you can easily print a Web page with a text posting on it or download a photo.  But how do you show that the text or photo actually looked the way you say it did?  Let’s put aside the professional obligations a lawyer has be honest.  As the saying goes:  In God we trust, all others pay cash.

The idea that I came across was to have the investigator – you, in the case of a solo lawyer, perhaps – video herself while simultaneous capturing the content of the screen.  In this way, you create a video and audio record of what you are seeing and anything that you screen capture or print is also preserved within the video recording.

Eyes rolling yet?  I’m not sure this is necessary.  It looks like this would be for a situation where you thought there were going to be real trust issues or a dispute over getting the evidence in.  If tampering isn’t going to be an issue, why bother with all of this?

But I still wanted to understand how you might do this.  There are three components:

  • a camera that captures the person doing the research.  It can be a Web camera on a laptop, a free-standing Web camera attached to a desktop, or a front-facing camera on a tablet;
  • a screencast or recording software so that you can capture what is happening on the device.  Screencast-o-matic.com is a favorite of mine on a laptop or desktop, but you might look at tools like Techsmith’s Jing or Camstudio.  It’s a bit trickier on tablets, but I used the SCR Screen Recorder (requires root) on my Samsung Android tablet.
  • a Web browser.

Then it’s just a matter of sitting down and putting these together.  Here’s what it looks like on my tablet:

I had to tilt the tablet a bit so that my face was both captured by the camera and displayed in the uncovered part of the screen.  Samsung tablets may be better than most for this, since you can have tiled apps, which enabled me to put one app beside another.  Obviously, if you did this on a desktop or laptop, it would be easy to layout your Web browser and camera screen and then capture them.

The DIY nature of this solution appeals to me, though.  It means that a lawyer can do this herself without an intermediary.  Like any technology solution, it just takes a bit of getting used to and having the right tools at the outset.  All of the tools – other than the tablet – were free.  I think it’s overkill in most cases but if there is a veritable smoking gun that you see on the Web, it may be better to grab it while you see it and capture it accordingly than to risk it disappearing and get into a she-said-he-said about whether it ever existed or not.

David Whelan

I improve information access and lead information teams. My books on finding information and managing it and practicing law using cloud computing reflect my interest in information management, technology, law practice, and legal research. I've been a library director in Canada and the US, as well as directing the American Bar Association's Legal Technology Resource Center. I speak and write frequently on information, technology, law library, and law practice issues.

1 Comment

  1. My Screen Recorder Pro is a better screencast software tool. Records your screen and audio from the speakers or your voice from the microphone – or both simultaneously. The recordings are clear and look great when played back on your PC or uploaded to YouTube. It will record directly to AVI, WMV, MP4, or FLV. Just perfect for creating tutorials, demos, and presentations. Plus, java is not required and there are no limits on recording length. Also, the recordings play back on any device.

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