At Relativity Fest, I had the opportunity to interview him. Many people, I said, are negative about the mass of evidence which is now available to us, seeing it purely in terms of the work and expense involved in getting through it. By contrast, Craig Ball sees this as a virtue – the data is there, is retrievable and is usable, and it should be seen as an asset not a burden.
Craig Ball said the lawyers are charged with getting to the truth, but seem “anachronistic” when it comes to mobile data, as if it was too much of a good thing. This is, he said, the “greatest time ever to be a litigator”. We no longer have to rely on eye-witnesses and how to get at their recollection without the influence of other sources.
Mobile data brings us precision and ubiquity. We all carry sophisticated systems around with us, giving us geolocation information among other things. Two-thirds of electronic mail now comes by mobile devices.
Lawyers have yet to wake up to the obligation to treat mobile data with the same consideration as they give to desktop computers.
Is it, I asked Craig Ball, that lawyers think that mobile data is less important, or is it that they do not think about it at all? He said that he thought that they were beginning to understand how important it is. The (then recent) Brett Kavanaugh story, with its competing oral accounts of long-ago events, would not happen now. Mobile devices would carry all the information required about where people were located and when, who else was there, how they got home and so on. The default retention period for SMS messages is forever.
Craig Ball aims to spread the message that there are simple, no-cost or low-cost ways of collecting data from mainstream mobile devices. A $40 piece of software will allow lawyers to take mobile data and put it into Relativity without the help of a white-coated technician. Mobile data is so locked down and encrypted that forensic examiners cannot get much more out of it than the lawyers can get for themselves.
Everyone ought to know how much information they can get off their own devices. I have done this at a simple level, showing how much tracking data is held by Google Maps, and have been surprised at the number of otherwise well-informed people who don’t know about this. Craig Ball does this at a much more detailed level, taking people “down into the depths of the devices”.
The GDPR has raised a certain awareness of the availability of data. If you take off your privacy hat, Craig Ball said, and put on your fact-finding hat, then you can prove some things with precision. It is the best time ever for being able to prove things, and it is going to get better.