In the digital age, almost everything a person does leaves an electronic signature. In many legal systems throughout the world, that signature can amount to internet evidence that may be used in a civil or criminal trial. Financial records, email correspondence, downloaded files, and transcripts from chat rooms or social networking sites are just some of the examples of what may be considered internet evidence that may ultimately be used as evidence at a trial.
In a civil trial, a person's financial records are frequently an issue. In a simple divorce case, for instance, one of the parties may accuse the other of hiding or concealing assets. The use of electronic banking makes evidence of financial transactions available as internet evidence in many jurisdictions.
Civil disputes for a breach of contract may also make use of internet evidence. Many people use email as the primary form of communication in today's digital age. As a result, many contract negotiations are recorded through e-mail correspondence. When a dispute comes up over the agreed upon terms, the emails may be introduced at a trial to support a person's position.
Criminal prosecutions frequently make use of internet evidence. For serious crimes, a search warrant may be obtained to confiscate and analyze the contents of a suspect's computer for everything from money laundering records to child pornography. Many people are under the mistaken impression that when they delete a file from a computer that the file is actually gone forever. In reality, most deleted files can be easily resurrected by trained information technology experts.
In some criminal prosecutions, evidence obtained from a computer may simply be circumstantial evidence of a crime. For example, chat room messages or social networking messages may simply prove a connection between a suspect and a victim. Financial records may show the existence of money that cannot be explained by the suspect's legitimate employment but does not, in and of itself, prove that a crime was committed.
Other internet evidence may actually be direct evidence of a crime. Photographs on a person's home computer that depict child pornography, for example, is a crime by itself in many jurisdictions. In addition, many jurisdictions have enacted statutes that address crimes committed on the internet, such as cyberstalking or electronic harassment. If evidence of threats made to a person via email or chat rooms is located on a person's computer, that may be direct evidence of cyberstalking or a similar crime.