Legal Aid Society

Projects, Units & Initiatives

Digital Forensics Unit

Founded in 2013, The Legal Aid Society’s Digital Forensics Unit uses technology to advocate for our clients in the courtroom, and fight against government surveillance and the erosion of digital privacy rights. The DFU was created in recognition that, as the largest public defender in New York City, The Legal Aid Society needed an internal unit that would be able to acquire, process, and analyze the vast amount of digital evidence that exists in the modern world. Consisting of three analysts, two senior analysts, four staff attorneys, one paralegal, and one supervising attorney, the DFU supports the work of the attorneys and clients of the Criminal Defense, Juvenile Rights, and Civil Practices of The Legal Aid Society.

Using industry-leading tools, the Unit assists attorneys in interpreting evidence from personal computers, mobile devices, cloud storage, and social media accounts. Additionally, analysts interpret cell-site location data, edit and enhance video recordings, and consult on other areas of emerging technology. The DFU provides trial preparation and litigation support to attorneys and advises them on the numerous ways that law enforcement uses technology to conduct surveillance on the public.

The Digital Forensics Unit has also been involved in fighting against violations of privacy and other core civil liberties. Members of the Unit continue to fight against law enforcement’s unregulated use of facial recognition technology, drones, and automated license plate readers, among other challenges. DFU attorneys have advocated for stronger privacy rights for all people and to prevent overreaching government intrusion.

Our Impact

  • Presenting an annual day-long training for public defenders, civil rights attorneys, and investigators from across the United States, focusing on how the law interacts with emerging digital forensic and electronic surveillance technologies.
  • Advising New York City public defenders on technology issues appearing in their cases, such as mobile forensics, facial recognition, and controverting search warrants of digital data.
  • Publishing a monthly newsletter, Decrypting a Defense, about recent and upcoming issues in the news and the courts, relating to digital forensics and surveillance.
  • Providing evidence from mobile devices, cloud storage, and social media accounts to strengthen claims of innocence that have resulted in charges being dismissed and clients being released from jail.
  • Presenting trainings on digital forensics to bar associations, public defender offices, and other groups.
  • Working with other legal advocacy organizations and the activist community to fight for privacy rights and to provide know-your-rights trainings.
  • Guiding protesters and activists on the best lawful methods to protect their privacy from electronic surveillance.

Press Highlights