Analyzing Social Media Warrant Returns
Virtually everyone in the industrialized world uses some kind of social media for some purpose. This includes criminals. While it may be hard for the average person to imagine, it’s extremely common for criminals of all types to leave crucial evidence behind through their social media use. This might include online conversations, pictures and video, information about their whereabouts and timelines, and even advertising (often clandestine) of illegal goods or services. As a result, investigators often seek social media warrants to access information that can establish a suspect or person of interest’s communications, social networks, travels, group affiliations, patterns of life, and possessions. A social media warrant can give investigators exactly what they need to solve crimes and make arrests.
However, there’s a down-side to the warrant returns provided by social media companies; they are extraordinarily difficult documents to process and analyze. The PDFs that social media platforms return to investigators are usually huge (tens of thousands of pages or more), mostly unformatted, and extremely difficult to analyze because the content is presented in a completely different manner from the way it appears in social media threads. This can mean blank pages, gaps in connectivity, and large amounts of redundancy. The same conversation thread may be repeated several times for each response, and disjointed threads may be nearly impossible to follow and trace to their sources.
This amount of unstructured data could take months to sort through manually while the criminals continue breaking the law and victimizing innocent civilians. Investigators need a solution that is fast, thorough, and highly accurate. As Jason Webb, Technical Sales Director for Voyager Labs, explains, “If it’s important enough for a judge to give you a search warrant, it’s important enough for you to thoroughly search the warrant return.” Webb’s perspective comes from his 16-year career in law enforcement, much of which involved using the latest technology to assist the FBI and Oxford City HIS to combat narcotics, human trafficking, and crimes against children. He has seen first-hand the challenges of navigating a PDF of 100,000 pages or more while reviewing evidence on social media, and he refers to the Voyager Labs’ Social Media Warrant Reader as a “force multiplier” in investigations.
The Social Media Warrant Reader as a Force Multiplier
With the typical PDF format of a social media warrant return, the only tool investigators usually have is an F5 search to highlight individually entered words and phrases. Then came the new Social Media Warrant Reader, which is one of the biggest game-changers in investigation history.
A Social Media Warrant Reader takes the massive PDFs provided by social media companies and helps investigators navigate, annotate, and analyze them with ease. Andrew Thompson, a fifteen-year veteran of the NYPD and expert in social media investigations, explains that a good Social Media Warrant Reader “rebuilds the content in a consumable format and provides several approaches to search and analyze the content.” Thompson worked with the ATF in using social media analysis to track down firearms used in crimes in New York City, and he has seen first-hand the value of Warrant Reader technology.
The best warrant reader in the market can instantaneously pull the PDF content provided by social media companies and transform it back into the chronological feed format for a social media account. This allows analysts to interact with the content in the user-friendly way the content was originally created, moving through threads, posts, direct messages (DMs), and images seamlessly and flagging and saving important bits of evidence which are automatically referenced back to the official record (the original PDF document). The warrant reader solution also removes blank pages and duplications, which can save hours of tedious document processing. As Thompson explains, with this technology, “Instead of spending countless hours as an aggregator of data, you can focus on being a true investigator.”
How to Learn More
As part of your research into social media warrant reader technology, consider attending our upcoming free webinar, Social Media Warrants: How to Save Time & Enhance Evidence Capture, on March 22nd. Register here.