On the one hand, this is a great way for us to maintain connections with the people close to us, no matter what time it is, or how far we actually live from each other. Relatives in another country can be easily reached through text, audio or video chat. Social media allows us to capture a single, happy moment of our life and share it with everyone who matters instantly.
But this ability to instantly update friends, family—and even the public at large—about our activities while both fulfilling and convenient, also serves another purpose that few people think about. It is a timeline and often legally admissible testimony of our attitudes and activities.
The Digital Double Life Does Not Exist
In old days of the Internet era, things were largely anonymous. Communication with others on a large scale was difficult, and most people only interacted with large groups of people in the form of online forums, where anonymous accounts were created. Who you were in real life was largely hidden from the people online, and some people created a “second life” for themselves online where they would say and do things they would never attempt in real life.
In the modern Internet era, things are very different. Most people leave a substantial “digital footprint,” whether that is their own social media accounts—which anyone in the public can access—or participation in other forms of electronic communities and interactions. For example, someone claiming to be a seasoned professional who doesn’t have a LinkedIn account would be regarded with a large amount of skepticism by other professionals who understand the importance of that professional online community.
This means that for many people in modern life, there is little to no separation between what is said and done online and what occurs in real life. And that means that anything you say, do or document digitally is something that can be examined in court.
Investigation Is Easier Digitally
In court cases, forensic examination has had a whole new—and in some ways, much easier—world open up to them with the widespread embrace of digital communication technology. Every time you use a cellular phone, you give your location away to your phone’s service provider in order for them to give you communication coverage. Every time you send a photo or a chat message over social media, the company that runs the service must know about your activity in order to properly share it with either people on your list, or the general public.
This means that every time you undertake a digital activity you are leaving trackable evidence of your activities. In order for this technology to work, someone MUST know what you are doing or where you are, in order for your desired digital outcome to take place, and that means this information is stored somewhere.
Your Best Friend & Worst Enemy
This means, for example, that if you get into a traffic accident where you are not at fault and the other driver drives away, your phone can be an invaluable assistant in gathering evidence. By taking photos and videos of the accident, not only are you capturing image evidence that can be used in court, this evidence is often time-stamped, so that the date and time are clearly known. If you capture a photo of that car driving away, with the license plate clearly visible, any claims the driver may make in court about not being present at the accident are a lie thanks to the digital evidence you have gathered.
This same accuracy can also work against you if you are trying to cover something up. For example if you were texting, or taking photos of yourself while driving, and that distracted state got you into the accident, all of that is documented as well. Even if you take the extra—and illegal—precaution of advising people you were texting to erase any text messages in an attempt to bury evidence, records of your device being active and sending out messages are present on company records, even if the text messages or photos taken have been deleted.
A heavily digital lifestyle isn’t just convenient for you, it is convenient for lawyers and other investigators that are trying to get to the truth of something like a personal injury case, or wrongful death case. Depending on how you were using your own technology during an incident, that digital trail can either help or harm your case.