The wide use of the internet and e-mail means computer forensics will play a greater role in legal matters Computer forensics is a growth business worldwide and has become newsworthy in Hong Kong, as the Edison Chen Koon-hei fiasco showed. Russell Wallace is a director at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and leads the forensic technology solutions practice. He says this is a fast-expanding area and PwC is seriously preparing for it. 'With the increased need to be able to service the data demands of clients, there is a growing need to outfit laboratories in Hong Kong and China with suitable IT infrastructure,' he said. This includes the installation of high-end Oracle servers for data mining and the installation of several web servers and Sequel servers for online e-discovery tools. 'Most of the data collection for computer forensic work these days is in multiple and remote locations, so it is necessary to develop tools and processes which can centralise the data on one common review platform which can be accessed via the web,' Mr Wallace said. Peter Bullock, a partner at Pinsent Masons, part of a group of international law firms, specialises in technology and has years of experience in this area in Hong Kong. His view is that computer forensics is not quite as big as some think, but he certainly understands why a company such as PwC thinks otherwise. 'Computer forensics is not huge in Hong Kong, largely because the outfits with the capability to do substantive matters are very expensive [usually associated with large accounting firms],' Mr Bullock said. 'They are geared to vast matters, and charge accordingly. Of course, the likes of the Edison Chen matter [the nude star internet photo scandal] also produce newsworthy computer forensics.' He said the most common forms of computer forensics were reconstituting laptops in civil fraud claims or criminal cases and establishing the source of abusive e-mail. Mr Wallace said that the public, including judges and lawyers, were beginning to understand more about computers. He said the proliferation of the internet and e-mail worldwide meant that more people, including those in the legal profession, increasingly had to understand electronic data. 'The fact is that electronic data is going to be relied on to a far greater degree in potential court actions and legal disputes,' Mr Wallace said. 'The more mature legal jurisdictions such as the United States and Britain may have been the first to experience the problems and complexities of electronic evidence, but it is an undeniable fact that these issues will ultimately have to be addressed in jurisdictions everywhere. 'Hong Kong has a very mature legal system and has been addressing computer-based evidence for many years,' Mr Bullock said. 'China is taking electronic data seriously, with PwC China-Hong Kong providing notarised affidavits relating to the preservation of electronic data to a number of mainland courts,' he said. Mr Bullock is more cautious. The International Organisation on Computer Evidence (IOCE) would not solve all the problems but it was certainly a good beginning, he said. 'Time will tell whether the IOCE will help. Internationally applicable standards are not a panacea, but they are a prerequisite,' Mr Bullock said. Considering how much we now depend on digital information, it is difficult to believe that computer forensics will not grow in time. Mr Wallace certainly thinks it will. 'The fact is that more than 98 per cent of all information is stored electronically and the quantity of information increases exponentially each year. 'Companies will become even more dependent on the skills of computer forensic specialists to locate vital information and evidence that will be required in an investigation, compliance review or regulatory-driven inquiry,' Mr Wallace said.