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Memory limitations and instability

Memory limitations and instability

Smartphones have different operating systems (e.g., Apple IOS version 10 versus Android) complete with different file and storage architecture, that record and store digital files in manufacturer-specific, proprietary conventions including highly variable, and increasingly robust encryption. But all smartphones share a basic design limitation, namely, space. In order to give smartphones the most “smarts” designers use a combination of “volatile” (unstable) and “non-volatile” (stable) memory. One often hears about “temporary” files that are routinely overwritten, such as web browser search histories and download histories, that may reside in a temporary “cache.” Those are examples of volatile/unstable digital memory files. They may contain exceptionally probative information notwithstanding their unstable format.

b. Apple Spotlight searches

iDevices allow users to search the entire device through a feature called “Spotlight search.” This feature searches for content on the device and stores the results of the search in a cache. A Spotlight search may reference deleted data. Forensic examination of the Spotlight cache can turn up deleted Short Message Service (SMS) texts. In some instances the examiner may be able to recover the complete text including associated phone number and date/time of the transmission. In other circumstances, only text fragments are recoverable with no identification of the phone number or the date and time of transmission. In one of our cases, the Spotlight search produced a mixed bag of complete and incomplete text messages on the same device, involving the same sender and receiver (as judged by the content of the messages themselves). That led counsel to try to piece together a unified chronology based on the content of the communications, despite the missing date/time information. That effort was only partially successful.