The difference between eDiscovery VS Digital Forensics

9 Mins read
eDiscovery VS Digital Forensics

Many people get confused about the differences between digital forensics and eDiscovery when it comes to data processing involving a legal case. While there are some similarities between the two, crucial characteristics still set them apart. Since it may get confusing if you don’t have any prior experience on the subject, this article will help explain eDiscovery vs digital forensics.

By understanding the definitions and what these processes focus on, you’ll have no problem in distinguishing between the two. Furthermore, you’ll be able to discover the most common terms used and their meaning. You can tell them apart once you’ve fully grasped what they’re used for and their benefits. Continue reading to discover if the process you’re interested in is eDiscovery or digital forensics!

What is eDiscovery?

To start off, eDiscovery is also known as electronic discovery. It’s a form of digital investigation used in various legal proceedings. Some of them include government investigations, litigation, or criminal proceedings. It also represents the electronic aspect of identifying, gathering, reviewing, analyzing, and producing electronically stored information.

Furthermore, electronically stored information, or ESI, can come in many forms. The most common ones you’ll stumble upon are:

  • Emails
  • Online documents
  • Databases
  • Instant messages
  • Social media accounts
  • Internal applications
  • Website content
  • Digital images
  • Voicemail
  • Audio and video files

Since eDiscovery deals with any electronic information used in criminal and civil litigations, it’s complex and time-consuming. Remember that the process surrounds a big volume of stored and processed electronic data.

Unlike traditional evidence, these files can also contain metadata. So, preserving the original data, such as time-date stamps and file properties, eliminates any suspicion of tampering. Once these files are placed under legal hold, they can’t be changed, deleted, or destroyed.

While the first step of this process is to gather all important electronic evidence, it should then be separated based on the case’s relevance. After the required documents have been identified and separated, they’re hosted in a secure environment with restricted access.

How the eDiscovery process works

Even though different businesses may use different eDiscovery methods, several stages recur. They’re meant to improve the collection and preservation process of relevant information. Thus, the nine steps you should know are:

  • Information governance: the procedures and policies for data collection. The IGRM model manages the best practices that such agencies should follow.
  • Identification: the identification of case-relevant evidence. The importance of the documents is determined through case facts, interviews, and the overall digital environment.
  • Preservation: the selected data should then be preserved to avoid deletion.
  • Collection: the collection process should always include the files’ metadata. Not altering the creation dates, size, and attachments ensures the data isn’t tampered with.
  • Processing: organizing the collected data manually or automatically with the help of software.
  • Reviewing: done manually or with AI, the important data is extracted from the irrelevant files.
  • Analyzing: identifying patterns and key information relevant to the case.
  • Production: the process of turning digital formats into physical evidence. By identifying the key information, it’s then prepared for presentation.
  • Presentation: since this data is used in litigation, it must be presented in front of an audience. Whether it’s attorneys, juries, judges, or mediators, it must have logical sense.

What is Digital Forensics?

Digital forensics is part of the forensics science branch. It involves the process of gathering, identifying, processing, analyzing, and reporting ESI, to investigate and establish facts in a criminal case.

Moreover, it investigates such data from electronic devices like computers and mobile phones related to cybercrime. Sometimes, it may even include smart appliances, electronic door locks, and vehicle navigation systems.

This process is mostly used to gather evidence needed for civil or criminal courts and private investigations. The gathered data can determine a suspect or intent, confirm an alibi or statement, and identify a source or document. Such investigations are more complex than eDiscovery since they interpret timelines and hypotheses.

Using digital forensics has many advantages. The ones that have the biggest importance are the following:

  • Digital evidence analysis
  • It may help identify criminals
  • It may help recover deleted data
  • It may help elaborate on how a crime has been committed
  • It may be potentially useful in preventing future crimes

Digital forensic branches

Depending on the type of digital device the evidence is collected from, several branches have an important role:

  • Computer forensics: information gathered from computers and USBs. It can include computer systems, electronic documents, and storage mediums.
  • Mobile device forensics: involves data gathered from mobile devices. Such are call data, location information, and communications.
  • Network forensics: the process of monitoring and analysis of local and WAN network traffic.
  • Forensic data analysis: mostly used for financial crime. It includes examining structured data to discover patterns of fraud-based activities.
  • Digital image forensics: focuses on image content and authenticity.
  • Database forensics: focuses on metadata found in databases, including content, log files, and in-RAM data.
  • IoT Forensics: includes analyzing information gathered from the Internet of Things field.

What is digital evidence in computer forensics?

Digital evidence holds the same significance as traditional evidence when presented in a court of law. It includes any data or information that provides value to an investigation that is stored or transmitted on electronic devices. The two data types collected as digital evidence are persistent and volatile.

Persistent data includes information stored on non-volatile memory storage devices. This means that it stays preserved even if the computer has been turned off. Some examples are local hard drives, SSDs, HDDs, CDs, and pen drives.

With a self-explanatory name, volatile data is stored on volatile memory storage devices. Such examples are RAM, cache, memory, and registers.

Since such evidence is known to be tampered with, the laws regarding it focus on its integrity and authenticity. For integrity, the gathered digital evidence must not be modified while acquiring the specific digital media.

As for authenticity, it is the ability to confirm this integrity to prove that it matches the original source of evidence.

How the digital forensics process works

Unlike eDiscovery, the digital forensics process is quite straightforward. The crucial steps involving any digital forensics data include the following:

  • Identification: the first step of the investigation. It includes going over specific electronic devices that have been confiscated. Doing so allows the inspectors to find important information and evidence.
  • Preservation: the process of safeguarding relevant ESI. It includes isolating, securing, and preserving the data gathered from crime scenes. This step also includes tamper-proofing the evidence.
  • Analysis: a methodical examination of the gathered documents and data. It also involves reconstructing fragments of information to start drawing conclusions.
  • Documentation: documenting the results and conclusion from the analysis. This allows other professional examiners to go through the case quickly.
  • Presentation: the last step of the process. Until now, the investigators should have gathered all the needed information. So, all they need to do is present the evidence. This should always be done in a concise and logical manner.

The Difference Between Digital vs Electronic Documents

There’s one last important element to know before differentiating digital forensics and eDiscovery. That is the difference between digital and electronic documents. Even though they may sound similar, several key characteristics set them apart.

First, digital records have a digital format origin. They are used as digital analogs for physical records. For example, various application forms, legal documents, and invoices come in PDF formats.

Furthermore, they are easy to transfer and change. So, they can also be transformed into physical documents via printing.

Common digital record types are the following:

  • eBooks
  • PDFs
  • Digital artwork
  • Scanned documents
  • Digital photographs
  • Digital audio files
  • Video files

On the other hand, electronic records are solely meant for computer systems. So, they don’t represent actual documents. They’re mostly input data found in databases and other electronic systems.

For example, an electronic record can be the following:

  • Emails and attachments
  • Spreadsheets
  • Software applications
  • Web pages
  • Blogs

The key differences are their origin, accessibility, and usability. As mentioned, digital documents originate from a digital format. Electronic ones exist solely on computer systems.

Furthermore, the first can be easily shared and viewed on any device. The latter can only be accessed through specific software.

eDiscovery Vs Digital Forensics

After reviewing them separately, you may start getting a grasp of them. But to fully understand it’s time to dive into the similarities and differences between digital forensics and eDiscovery.

Differences between digital forensics and eDiscovery

First, we’ll start with the differences. Digital forensics and eDiscovery differ in these several characteristics:

  • Required standards
  • Data collection
  • Data analysis
  • Tools used

Required standards

The main difference between eDiscovery and digital forensics lies in the required standards. Since the latter deals with more serious matters, it’s often held to higher standards.

Furthermore, eDiscovery follows the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. This means that it focuses more on the civil aspects rather than criminal ones. On the other hand, the latter falls under the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure.

Furthermore, remember that eDiscovery is mostly used in simple investigations and litigation. On the other hand, digital forensics focuses on criminal activities. This also includes the timeline and hypotheses. So, it’s easy to say that more thought and preciseness go on behind the process of digital forensics.

Data collection

The second difference is the data collection process. Both eDiscovery and digital forensics focus on data processing. But the way they do it differs slightly.

First, eDiscovery gathers, organizes, and interprets ESI from various digital devices. But they don’t include the ones that have been deleted, hidden, or tampered with.

It’s natural for the investigators to be careful during the process. But the data collection process isn’t as strict. They may only be asked to testify about how they’ve collected the data.

Digital forensics has the ability to recover deleted files and analyze tampered data. It can be viewed as a more technical task of uncovering ESI using different tools and techniques.

Furthermore, the evidence has to have integrity and authenticity. So, the data collection process is strict and held to the highest standard.

Data analysis

Next, there’s the different data analysis process. First, eDiscovery uses analysis to identify relevant and important data. Digital forensics uses it to build timelines and confirm hypotheses.

In the first case, the investigators focus only on gathering the needed files and delivering them to the designated contact. They aren’t required to clarify the user’s intent and give legal counsel. It’s the client’s legal team that holds the obligation to review the gathered information.

In digital forensics, forensic experts aid the legal team in producing evidence for a specific case. They can go as far as pinpointing keywords and cross-referencing them to the gathered data. Since they work with encrypted data, the task of reassembling the user’s intent falls on their shoulders.

Tools used

Lastly, there are different tools used for eDiscovery and digital forensics. The first uses software to help with the data reviewing, organizing, and processing.

On the other hand, digital forensics uses complex and specialized hardware and software. Besides forensic imaging and analysis tools, they may also use specialized techniques. Such are network forensics and memory analysis.

To better understand this difference, you should know at least the basic tools each of them use.

Common eDiscovery tools

Here are the most common tools used for eDiscovery:

  • AI software: automatically reviews data and categorizes the needed ESI. It helps make the process more efficient while also saving time and money.
  • Email archiving: managing and archiving email data for proper organization. Helps with collecting and identifying relevant ESI.
  • Data processing and hosting: platforms meant for ESI storing and security. Aids in reviewing and processing information.
  • Text analytics: focuses on using natural language processing and keyword search. Can quickly find specific ESI from large pools of information.
  • Collection and preservation tools: can collect ESI from various sources. Such are servers, clouds, and personal devices. They also aid in keeping the data’s integrity secure.
Common digital forensics tools

Some common digital forensics tools include the following:

  • Forensic imaging and duplication: tools used to create exact copies. This process is always based on the original digital media and devices. Doing so ensures the original data’s integrity.
  • File analysis: aids in the extraction and analysis of different file types.
  • File carving: helps recover fragmented or deleted files. They come in useful even when dealing with a damaged file system.
  • Hash comparison: can compare a file’s digital signature to ensure integrity.
  • Cloud forensics: helps in extracting information from cloud-based platforms.
  • Network forensics: can analyze network traffic to track and identify criminal activities.
  • Memory analysis: used for computer memory analysis. Such are running processes and open network connections.

Similarities between digital forensics and eDiscovery

So how are digital forensics and eDiscovery similar?

First, they both deal with data gathering, processing, preserving, and analyzing. At the end of each process, the relevant information is presented in a way to aid a legal case.

Furthermore, their investigation process is based on case information. The data they gather has to be relevant and reviewable by the users.

Even though their tools differ, both practices use automation whenever possible. Since they both deal with big volumes of information, making use of valuable resources is a must.


After reviewing the eDiscovery vs digital forensics processes, tasks, differences, and similarities, it’s up to you to decide which suits your needs better. But always remember that there are options to make use of both of them. By combining their separate elements, you may end up with the best results in your case.

Each practice focuses on providing the customer with the essential information for their situation. By ensuring the security and integrity of the gathered data, they’re able to help with many different cases. Lastly, if you ever find yourself in a situation where you’re not sure which one is best for you, you can always come back to this article to help make the right decision!

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