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D.C. Taps Australian Expert To Help Uncover Digital Footprints In Crimes

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Laptops, or crucial pieces of evidence in criminal investigations?
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Laptops, or crucial pieces of evidence in criminal investigations?

The District government has tapped one of the leading experts in digital evidence to work in its forensics department. Paul Reedy helped create the computer forensic team for Australia's version of the FBI, and now he's bringing that expertise to D.C.

It seems everything we do these days is online. Texts, emails, shopping, social networks—there's a digital footprint from every step we take. This digital evidence is become increasingly important for solving crimes and building cases in court.

Paul Reedy, head of the city's new Digital Evidence Unit, is considered one of the world's top authorities in the field of digital forensics—that's the science of identifying, preserving and analyzing a digital crime scene. From bringing down bomb-making terrorists to busting-up sophisticated networks of drug dealers, Reedy has seen it all.

"Its a never-ending game of steps and catching up," he says, comparing his job to solving puzzles. "Every one is different. There are no two that are the same."

Reedy says the first challenge in digital forensics is physically finding the data, tracking down the devices like laptops, thumb drives, and DVDs. Sophisticated criminals, he says, will often go to great lengths to hide them.

"People will hide it anywhere. Sealed in walls, in false floors, within the clothing door, in the roofs of houses," he says.

Extracting data from these devices isn't always easy, especially if the laptops or DVDs have been physically damaged or the data has been encrypted. And Reedy recalls his work on a major anti-terrorism operation in Austrialia back in 2004.

"There were at least as many laptops as suspects. Seven-hundred CDs, two dozen USB sticks. A lot of them were damaged we had to repair them. It was looking at the useful info that may have been present," he recalls.

Reedy helped uncover extremists videos and recipes to make bombs.

Besides terrorism, digital forensic evidence has been crucial in capturing child predators and stopping drug dealers, as well as helping solve every day crimes.

"In four years, our work increased 100-fold," he says. "It's an exponential growth."

And as more and more life takes place online, Reedy knows from experience he'll be busy.

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