Proposed Standards for the Exchange of Digital Evidence

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Scientific Working Group on Digital Evidence (SWGDE)


The Scientific Working Group on Digital Evidence (SWGDE) was established in February 1998 through a collaborative effort of the Federal Crime Laboratory Directors. SWGDE, as the U.S.-based component of standardization efforts conducted by the International Organization on Computer Evidence (IOCE), was charged with the development of cross-disciplinary guidelines and standards for the recovery, preservation, and examination of digital evidence, including audio, imaging, and electronic devices.

The following document was drafted by SWGDE and presented at the International Hi-Tech Crime and Forensics Conference (IHCFC) held in London, United Kingdom, October 4-7, 1999. It proposes the establishment of standards for the exchange of digital evidence between sovereign nations and is intended to elicit constructive discussion regarding digital evidence. This document has been adopted as the draft standard for U.S. law enforcement agencies.


The latter part of the twentieth century was marked by the electronic transistor and the machines and ideas made possible by it. As a result, the world changed from analog to digital. Although the computer reigns supreme in the digital domain, it is not the only digital device. An entire constellation of audio, video, communications, and photographic devices are becoming so closely associated with the computer as to have converged with it.

From a law enforcement perspective, more of the information that serves as currency in the judicial process is being stored, transmitted, or processed in digital form. The connectivity resulting from a single world economy in which the companies providing goods and services are truly international has enabled criminals to act transjurisdictionally with ease. Consequently, a perpetrator may be brought to justice in one jurisdiction while the digital evidence required to successfully prosecute the case may reside only in other jurisdictions.

This situation requires that all nations have the ability to collect and preserve digital evidence for their own needs as well as for the potential needs of other sovereigns. Each jurisdiction has its own system of government and administration of justice, but in order for one country to protect itself and its citizens, it must be able to make use of evidence collected by other nations.

Though it is not reasonable to expect all nations to know about and abide by the precise laws and rules of other countries, a means that will allow the exchange of evidence must be found. This document is a first attempt to define the technical aspects of these exchanges.


The format of this document was adopted in conformance with the format of the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors/Laboratory Accreditation Board manual.


Acquisition of Digital Evidence: Begins when information and/or physical items are collected or stored for examination purposes. The term "evidence" implies that the collector of evidence is recognized by the courts. The process of collecting is also assumed to be a legal process and appropriate for rules of evidence in that locality. A data object or physical item only becomes evidence when so deemed by a law enforcement official or designee.

Data Objects: Objects or information of potential probative value that are associated with physical items. Data objects may occur in different formats without altering the original information.

Digital Evidence: Information of probative value stored or transmitted in digital form.

Physical Items: Items on which data objects or information may be stored and/or through which data objects are transferred.

Original Digital Evidence: Physical items and the data objects associated with such items at the time of acquisition or seizure. …