Computer forensic examiner Christi Winters looks at a cell phone and sees a potential crime scene. Winters, a parole and probation officer with the Multnomah County, Or., Department of Community Justice, spends her days scouring the metadata of phones, hard drives and other digital devices to keep tabs on adult and youth offenders who are under community supervision, The Oregonian reports. Her lab, stacked floor-to-ceiling with computers, hard drives, cell phones, floppy discs, VHS tapes, CDs, thumb drives and memory cards in neatly labeled plastic bags, is the only one of its kind in the state.
“All of it is evidence,” says Winters, 46. Parole and probation officers monitor convicted criminals released to community supervision. The terms judges set for probation or parole can include not just prohibitions on criminal activity, but also restrictions on contacting specific people, viewing pornography or leaving town. “Before we came into this digital age, it was just assumed that parole and probation officers were monitoring physical behavior,” she says. “Where are they going? Who are they seeing? What are they doing?” Now, criminals’ capacity to break the law isn’t limited to their ability to make physical contact with others. Advancements in technology have been “a boon” for criminals, Winters says. Internet-equipped phones and computers enable them to commit crime without ever leaving home, without any witnesses. “Those tools we’ve used in the past won’t tell you how people are using their cell phones and electronic devices, so we’ve expanded the definition of supervision,” she says.