Understanding the Use of Digital Forensics in Policing in England and Wales: An Ethnographic Analysis of Current Practices and Professional Dynamics

Digital evidence can reveal a suspect’s intent to commit an offence and help establish when events occurred, where victims and suspects were and with whom they communicated. As the volume of cases requiring digital forensic analysis and the amount of information to be processed in each case have risen rapidly in recent years, law enforcement agencies are struggling to address this demand.

This three-year ESRC-funded project (September 2018–2021) will provide a theoretically grounded and empirically based ethnographic analysis of the digital forensic resources, practices and expertise mobilised to provide intelligence for on-going investigations and aid the prosecution of suspects. It aims to illuminate how the usefulness of digital evidence in crime detection can be maximized, while preserving ethical acceptability, civil liberties and protecting both the victims and the wrongly accused.

The research team will work with digital forensics practitioners, police officers and other stakeholders to examine operational procedures and dependencies, professional tensions and regulatory dynamics. In addition to academic debates, it is hoped that the findings will inform current policy, practice and practitioner training.