Saturday, March 5, 2011

CLIR digital forensics report

Last December, the Council on Library and Information Resources released Digital Forensics and Born-Digital Content in Cultural Heritage Collections. In it, Matthew G. Kirshenbaum (Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities, University of Maryland), Richard Ovenden (Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford), and Gabriela Redwine (Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin) detail how investigative techniques and applications developed by law enforcement personnel can be of use to archivists and librarians working with born-digital manuscripts and other types of electronic cultural heritage materials.

I've been aware of this report for some time, but didn't have the chance to skim it until yesterday afternoon. I came away deeply impressed. It provides a handy introduction to the principles and practices of digital forensics, highlights the ways in which digital forensics tools can help to safeguard the authenticity and trustworthiness of born-digital materials, and explains how these tools can help to recover information that has been deleted or stored in legacy formats. Moreover, it explains, clearly and succinctly, a lot of things that archivists who work with electronic records really should know more about, such as how data is recorded onto magnetic media and the differences between and intricacies of file directory structures. It also discusses the ethical implications of using law enforcement tools and techniques to analyze electronic materials created by people who are not accused of wrongdoing, willingly gave their materials to a repository, and might be stunned to learn that the repository can recover financial data and other files that they thought they had deleted prior to transfer.

This report is essential reading for anyone who does hands-on work with electronic records or other types of born-digital cultural heritage materials.

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