Category Archives: Social Media Investigations

New York Appellate Court Allows “Data Mining” of Social Media accounts for Relevant Information

By John Patzakis

The New York Appellate Division allowed discovery into the non-public information of the social media accounts of a former professional basketball player relevant to his personal injury claims arising out of an automobile accident. In Vasquez-Santos v. Mathew 2019 NY Slip Op 00541 (January 24, 2019), the court held that the defendant may utilize the services of a “data mining” company for a widespread search of the plaintiff’s devices, email accounts, and social media.social-media-cases3

Vasquez-Santos is an extension of a large body of court decisions that allow discovery of a user’s “private” social media messages, posts and photos where that information is reasonably calculated to contain evidence material and necessary to the litigation. Private social media information can be discoverable to the extent it “contradicts or conflicts with [a] plaintiff’s alleged restrictions, disabilities, and losses, and other claims” according the Vasquez-Santos Court.

The Court found that the defendant “is entitled to discovery to….defend against plaintiff’s claims of injury,” and noted that the requested access to plaintiff’s accounts and devices “was appropriately limited in time, i.e., only those items posted or sent after the accident, and in subject matter, i.e., those items discussing or showing defendant engaging in basketball or other similar physical activities.”

Also noteworthy was the Court’s finding that while plaintiff did not take the pictures himself, that was of no import to the decision. He was “tagged,” thus allowing him access to the pictures, and thus populated his social media account.

This decision is consistent with the general rule that while social media is clearly discoverable, there must be a requisite showing of relevance before the court moves to compel full production of a litigant’s “private” social media.

This case illustrates that any solution purporting to support eDiscovery for social media must have robust public search and collection capabilities. This means more than merely one-off screen scrapes but instead an ability to search, identify and capture up to thousands of social media posts on an automated and scalable basis.

X1 Social Discovery has the ability to find an individual’s publicly available content and to collect it in an automated fashion in native format with all available metadata intact to enable systematic and scalable search, review, tagging and analysis. We heard from one major law firm that screen captures of a single public Facebook account took several hours, with the resulting images not searchable or organized into a case-centric workflow. Now with X1 Social Discovery, they are able to accomplish this full capture in seconds. This is critically important to conduct proper due diligence on a case and to better assist legal and investigative professionals to make the requisite showings for the full discovery of social media evidence in civil discovery, as in Vasquez-Santos.

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Filed under Best Practices, Case Law, Case Study, eDiscovery, law firm, Social Media Investigations

Dark Web Evidence Critical to all Cyber Investigations and Many eDiscovery matters

The dark web is a component of the World Wide Web that is only accessible through special software or configurations, allowing users and website operators to remain anonymous or untraceable. The dark web forms a small part of the deep web, which is the part of the Web not indexed by web search engines. The dark web has gained more notoriety over the past few years and several large criminal investigations have resulted in seizures of both cryptocurrencies and dark web pages and sites. Criminal enterprises involving counterfeiting, hacking, ID and IP theft, narcotics, child pornography, human trafficking, and even murder for hire seek a haven in the mist of encrypted communications and payment, such as Bitcoin, to facilitate their nefarious schemes. dark web

While mining the dark web is critical for many law enforcement investigations, we are also seeing increased focus on this important evidence in civil litigation. Fero v. Excellus Health Plan, Inc., (Jan. 19, 2018, US Dist Ct, NY), is one recent example. Fero arises out of a data breach involving healthcare provider Excellus Health Plan, Inc. According to the complaint, hackers breached Excellus’s network systems, gaining access to personal information millions of individuals, including their names, dates of birth, social security numbers, credit card numbers, and medical insurance claims information. The Plaintiffs brought a class action asserting claims under various federal and state laws.

Initially, the court dismissed the plaintiffs’ case, citing a failure to establish damages and actual misuse by the hackers who allegedly stole their information. However, after conducting a more diligent investigation, the plaintiffs submitted with their motion for reconsideration evidence that the plaintiffs’ PII was placed on the dark web.  This evidence was summarized in an expert report providing the following conclusion:  “it is my opinion to a reasonable degree of scientific certainty that PII and PHI maintained on the Excellus network was targeted, collected, exfiltrated, and put up for sale o[n] DarkNet by the attacker for the purpose of, among other things, allowing criminals to purchase the PII and PHI to commit identity theft.”  Fero, at 17.  Based on this information, the court granted the motion for reconsideration and denied the defendant’s motion to dismiss. In other words, the dark web evidence was game-changing in this high-profile class action suit.

Cases like Fero v. Excellus Health Plan illustrate that dark web evidence is essential for criminal and civil litigation matters alike. Dark Web investigations do require specialized knowledge and tools to execute. For instance, X1 Social Discovery can be easily configured to conduct such dark web investigation and collections.

Recently, Joe Church of Digital Shield led a very informative and instructive webinar on this topic. Joe is one of the most knowledgeable people that I’m aware of out there on dark web investigations, and his detailed presentation did not to disappoint. Joe’s presentation featured a concise overview of the dark web, how its used, and how to navigate it. He included a detailed lesson on tools and techniques needed to search for and investigate key sources of evidence on the dark web. This webinar is a must see for anyone who conducts or manages dark web investigations. Joe also featured a section on how to specifically utilize X1 Social Discovery to collect, search and authenticate dark web evidence. You can review this very informative 30 minute training session (no sign in required) by visiting here.

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Filed under Best Practices, Case Law, Case Study, Cloud Data, dark web, eDiscovery, Preservation & Collection, Social Media Investigations, Uncategorized