When you think about criminal investigations, you probably think about forensic and crime labs in FBI offices, police stations and other high-security facilities. You probably don't think about them sharing space with pharmacies, groceries and a toy aisle.
However, as reported in this article in The Atlantic, retailers including Target and Walmart are getting into the criminal investigation business. And they may be getting more results than law enforcement agencies.
Digital forensic labs are popping up in retail stores throughout the country for a number of reasons. Keeping investigations in-house allows a company to investigate crimes faster. Additionally, it is also evidently easier for these companies to stock and maintain high-tech investigation systems and tools than it is for state, local or even federal law enforcement agencies to.
In fact, these corporate labs could be even better at collecting and identifying evidence. They don't have the same red tape and strict procedures that police must worry about; they typically have more money; they often have more time and resources to devote to digital forensic investigation.
However, there are certainly concerns that must be raised with regard to this emerging trend.
To begin with, these labs are not always accredited, so it can be more difficult to ensure proper collection procedures have been followed, especially when it comes to surveillance and data encryption. Additionally, companies have different motivations than law enforcement agencies, which can affect quality of evidence collected. Finally, even though these investigation teams work with police to review the alleged evidence, there can be concerns with how that information is shared and interpreted.
It should also be noted that companies who operate these labs outside of police agencies have access to and use systems, tools and software that is not available to law enforcement agencies for one reason or another. Because of this, the legitimacy of this equipment could be called into question.
If you are facing criminal charges, challenging the evidence against you will be a top priority in your defense. This can be incredibly complicated, whether the evidence came from a police search of your house or data extracted from your phone by a Walmart lab, so consulting an experienced criminal defense attorney will be crucial.