Lockdowns and travel restrictions may have limited the ability of investigation teams to conduct ‘traditional’ investigative tasks, however these circumstances have also created a need to rethink and explore how investigations can be effectively completed remotely. Whilst there have been some drawbacks, such as reduced face-to-face exposure and the ability to the read the body language of an interviewee, certain benefits include increased efficiencies to the investigator negating the need to travel, and a reduced burden to a company that has the presence of investigators on-site.
Technology has and continues to play a pivotal role in facilitating investigations. With less reliance and use of ‘hard copy’ business records and in person meetings or interviews, now more than ever, electronic sources of information and communication platforms have become integral in identifying and acquiring evidence.
In particular, technologies that have been used in the past have more recently emerged as essential tools in an investigation tool kit. This includes:
- Acquiring physical evidence remotely – Increasingly when there are large volumes of data and information to examine (exports of finance systems, vendor Masterfiles, financial records and documents) investigations teams are relying more and more on password protected file sharing platforms to acquire the data directly from the source e.g. OneDrive or Hightail. This reduces the need to be in person and download to external hard-drives or use emails which generally have size restrictions. Email data that is stored in the cloud e.g. Office 365, can also be directly downloaded to investigation teams remotely by way of secure Administrator access. Again, this can reduce the need to be on-site and minimise disruption to businesses. As a cautionary note, the manner in which these forms of evidence are acquired will still need to be properly recorded to enable the evidence to be tested and maintain chain of custody, should that be required at some later stage.
- Interviewing witnesses and suspects remotely – Communication platforms have greatly advanced the effectiveness of remote investigations by allowing for ‘face-to-face’ interaction to conduct remote interviews. There is little doubt that nothing will replace the complete and thorough investigative option of interviewing the subject in person, however, for the majority of interviews this now becomes a genuine option. Some risks remain in that the interview could be recorded without the investigators knowledge and shared with other parties including the subject person. Alternatively, other parties could be present without the investigator’s knowledge, which creates a risk that the interview and information obtained from that interview is being shared without the knowledge of the investigator. These risks can be reduced with clear directions in advance and a structured interview plan that factors in a risk that questions could be shared with other parties.
These are two critical investigative techniques that have been impacted by the global pandemic. The importance of being able to adapt to changing circumstances is not new to an investigator. In fact, an inability to work under these circumstances may likely have already resulted in investigations being compromised. Therefore, whilst the complexities of conducting investigations may have increased, the opportunity to remain remote and reduce the impact on an organisation, has enabled investigators to move through their work more discreetly and with some greater efficiency; something that is increasingly seen as an important consideration when contemplating the impact an investigation may have on an organisation and its people.