Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) and the Law

The dawn of the social media age has changed the way society functions. It has become a part of day-to-day live, but it has also revolutionised the way investigations are conducted. Investigators no longer have to spend days in the field when they can get a substantial amount of information from the web.

Open-Source Intelligence (OSINT) is information collected from publically available sources. As technology has moved forward, many corporate investigators like ourselves not only have feet on the ground but also have a seat in front of a computer, utilising databases, social media platforms, interactive data mining tools and OSINT techniques to get the information needed.

However the misperception that a simple “social media” inquiry is all that is needed couldn’t be further from the truth. This complex investigative technique requires highly skilled investigators who understand where to look and how to interrogate and authenticate all information sourced. Often unskilled investigators fall short when gathering evidence in a ways that make the results useful, especially when it comes to trail.

Utilising OSINT effectively requires that the information is obtained in such a way that it can be admissible in court. Investigators must never lose sight of the bigger picture and therefore must collect the evidence in the same way they would in more traditional investigations.

Like any investigation thought must be given to acquiring authenticated intelligence in a way that will allow it to be admitted into evidence. It must be relevant and devoid of hearsay. The admissibility of OSINT content is no different to that of traditional evidence. It is important for legal teams to involve their investigators at the inception of any OSINT enquiry to avoid costly fees on poorly structured and randomly put together information.

Privacy out the window when posted online

People have the misguided believe that one’s personal information will remain private and cannot be admissible in court. When it comes to any form of open source intelligence including social media, an individual is most likely waiving these rights when they post information that is publicly accessible. Case studies have shown that once an individual posts something viewable by anyone else on the Internet, they relinquish any confidentiality rights in it. In most cases, social media privacy cases apply the long-standing “reasonable expectation of privacy” rule to open source intelligence. Once something is publically and voluntarily posted on social media, it no longer brings a “reasonable expectation of privacy.” This applies to third parties posts that may be invasive to your privacy. Remember, your consent doesn’t cover the postings of others that you don’t authorise.

The future of the investigation industry therefore lies with the correct application of OSINT. Not only will it benefit investigators, but it holds unmatched potential for their clients.

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