Well we’ve all heard so much talk about phone metadata. Theres also photo metadata. Hidden inside every digital photo is an Exchangeable Image File Format (EXIF) metadata text file containing information that can help legal professionals learn many different things about the image, such as who took, when and where it was taken, and with what type of equipment.
EXIF data can be used to glean insight from photos provided by clients as well as to identify and manage images taken by law office attorneys and staff. Yet many lawyers don’t fully understand how to effectively use EXIF metadata, or even know that such files exist.
EXIF metadata can include valuable information, such as a shot’s technical specifications, the type of camera used, the camera’s serial number and the date and time when the image was taken. Many newer cameras also come with GPS systems that automatically record exact location coordinates and altitude into the EXIF file.
Standard forensic tools, such as Forensic Toolkit from AccessData and EnCase from Guidance Software, can be used to access and examine EXIF metadata. Other programs that allow direct EXIF file viewing include photo-editing programs, such as Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, and viewer applications like Exif Viewer (Windows) and iExifer (Mac).
What can an attorney learn from EXIF metadata ? Actually a great deal. An attorney defending or prosecuting a child pornography suspect can, for example, can look at evidence photos’ EXIF files to see if they contain any “smoking gun” information, like GPS coordinates that match a specific location, such as the defendant’s home or the school he works at. The photo’s metadata can be checked for the camera brand and model, camera serial number, lens type, “artist” tag and various other fields to see if they match known facts about the photo’s creator. EXIF data can also help settle property disputes when theres a disagreement as to when or where a photo was taken.
EXIF metadata can be altered by anyone with the knowledge and motivation to do so. This fact must be taken into consideration before an attorney plans to submit metadata as courtroom evidence. The possibility of EXIF metadata alteration doesn’t necessarily preclude its use as evidence, but an attorney may need to prove a chain of custody and show that the files never fell into the hands of anyone who could benefit by changing any of the information.