Newsletter #3: Our idea to preserve digital evidence

We aim to provide a proof-of-concept software for researchers and small teams sifting through online material, which demonstrates chain of custody and durable preservation.

_(In case you missed it last week, the previous issue of this newsletter, “Wait, digital evidence?” in which we touch on chain of custody and admissibility, can be found here)__

It’s maybe time to clarify a few things about what the Digital Evidence Preservation Toolkit is and does*, from the two original thoughts:

  1. Content living online is at risk. Deletion, link rot, censorship, accidental destruction – you name it. The social internet may be great at surfacing and disseminating information but it’s pretty terrible at preserving it.
  2. If the goal is prosecution, the standards of research, due diligence and safekeeping are a different ballpark to those of journalistic publication. As a journalist, I’ve seen first-hand how some of this evidence is weighed and cleared by Legal. As co-founder of Airwars, I’ve seen first-hand the steps we took to ensure our material wouldn’t disappear. If my law studies serve me well: both the above fall short of what the courts demand when it comes to evidentiary standards.

We aim to provide a proof-of-concept software for researchers and small teams sifting through online material. With only one click of the mouse, the material will be archived in a framework demonstrating chain of custody and stored durably. Once included in the growing database, users will be able to go back to search through and annotate the material, and to export working copies of said material for publication and dissemination.

The central claim: a database built thusly can be handed to a prosecutor ten years down the line, and they will be able to say with mathematical certainty: “the material in this archive is identical and contemporary to the one saved at the time, ten years ago.”

We want this to be the plastic sealed bag in which evidence is deposited, and which is then kept under watch in an evidence room, where each access is tracked and reported in a log.

That’s not saying we solved the verification and authenticity questions – quite the contrary.

The Toolkit only addresses provenance and chain the custody from the moment of record. The content stored very well may be unauthentic, doctored, or fake – but with the Toolkit, it will be adequately preserved.

And without this preservation, the court won’t have the chance to examine it and to sort the fake from the truthful.

Follow along

The technical work is taking place on GitHub and is best followed through the Kanban board tracking my progress in delivering a minimum viable product in the next couple of weeks.

If you’ve got technical chops and have some spare time in the coming month, please get in touch. I’m looking for reviewers, testers, TypeScript connoisseurs, and browser APIs experts.


We’ve reached out to the Centre for Information Resilience’s Myanmar Witness project. It’s funded through the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office and claim: “All data is independently verified, hashed, and kept safely and securely.”

There’s a new Berlin venture called Investigative Commons. The group, composed of Mnemonic, Bellingcat, Forensic Architecture and ECCHR, is supported by the Global Legal Action Network. We’re speaking soon.