Audit finds deficiencies at FBI computer lab in New Jersey

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Thursday, March 24, 2016
FILE: FBI supervisory Special Agent Ronald E. Menold II stands in the New Jersey Regional Computer Forensics Laboratory Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013, in Hamilton Township, N.J.
AP Photo/Mel Evans-AP

HAMILTON, N.J. -- Justice Department auditors on Thursday released the results of an audit that found deficiencies that have the potential for abuse at the FBI's forensic computer lab in New Jersey.

Auditors examined operations and training at the New Jersey Regional Computer Forensic Laboratory in Hamilton, which helps law enforcement in the state examine computer evidence related to crimes and cyberterrorism. It is the nation's third largest measured by staff size and the number of cases.

The audit found kiosks which allow users to quickly and easily view data stored on cellphones to use as evidence were vulnerable to abuse. Forms used at the center did not require users to confirm they had the legal authority to conduct the search, the audit found. In addition, some users did not certify they had been trained to examine cellphones.

Officials say the lab has since implemented a new mandatory electronic form to better record searches.

Auditors said the lab did not maintain adequate documents to show law enforcement personnel were adequately trained in the proper techniques for seizing, handling and examining digital evidence. Instructors could not prove whether those who signed up for training actually participated.

In an April 2015 audit of Philadelphia's Regional Computer Forensic Lab, officials recommended the FBI create a secure automated system to register users for training and attendance. However, the FBI said the cost and budget prevented that.