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FBI Confidential: Your files are never really “deleted”

SALT LAKE CITY — You’ve probably heard that nothing you delete from a computer or a smartphone is ever really gone, but the FBI has ways of recovering that data as evidence in criminal cases. 

As part of the Intermountain West Regional Computer Forensics Lab, or RCFL, Supervisory Special Agent Cheney Eng-Tow and his team know how to find digital evidence. It’s one of more than a dozen similar labs across the country tasked with helping catch criminals with evidence on computers, smartphones and other devices.

For example, Eng-Tow’s team helped catch a serial rapist from Montana after retrieving videos the subject had recorded of his victims because his own image was reflected in a mirror, and by looking at a hidden app on his phone.

Whether it’s photo enhancement or following the money in a fraud case, the team works closely with local law enforcement to stop crime.

Audio and video enhancements can help law enforcement do things like read license plates in order to catch criminals, according to Eng-Tow. He shares an example of a time this method helped catch a poacher.

“Everybody has CC TV,” said Eng-Tow when explaining that cameras are everywhere. You can find them at front doors or surveillance at a gas station.  

When it comes to audio the RCFL can eliminate white noise in order to hear voices better. Eng-Tow tells a story of an officer interviewing a suspect near a running vehicle, they were able to improve the audio enough to hear the interview.

When you think digital you probably think mobile phone or computer. But these are not the only places evidence can be pulled from. Cars, drones and smartwatches are all devices that can be used as evidence.

Cars with modern computers can record how fast you were going, where you were at during a given time and even when you put the car in drive, explained Eng-Tow.

“When you delete a file on a computer you are not really deleting a file,” said Eng-Tow when asked about the FBI’s ability to recover evidence.

This division provides a tool that most local law enforcement agencies don’t have access to. It takes years to train a team member and existing team members are always being re-trained as new technologies are developed.

Users can find FBI Confidential on the KSL Newsradio website and app, as well as Apple Podcasts and Google Play.

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