Ever since beginning of the twenty first century, human civilization has witnessed phenomenal positive digital transformation in all walks of life e.g. business, education, communication, entertainment, commerce & trade, service delivery mechanism, payment system, governance & administration etc. The dark side of this digital transformation is weaponization of cyber landscape by criminal elements for carrying out their illicit activities including illegal wildlife trade.
Digital platforms like social media sites, B2B & B2C e-Commerce sites, other websites & online forums have emerged as new marketplaces for wildlife traffickers. Wildlife cyber crime has emerged as a new frontier of challenge for wildlife law enforcement agencies. To prosecute the wildlife cyber criminals successfully, digital evidences linking the accused with the wildlife cyber crime need to be preserved in such a manner that they are admissible beyond any reasonable doubt during the trial of the accused in the court of law.
Digital evidences are very volatile in nature. The accused after getting caught by the enforcement authorities may get his social media account/page deleted/deactivated or shut down his website before investigating agency officially gather evidences against the accused from the concerned cyber platform following due process of law. Many times servers of these digital entities are outside the territorial jurisdiction of the investigating agency and following the route of Letter Rogatory (LR) or Mutual Legal Assistance Request (MLAR) to collect evidences may take months or years altogether. By that time entire details of the accused gets erased from the servers of the digital platforms. Taking advantage of such scenario, attorney of the accused may take a plea during trial that all digital evidences produced against his clients are fabricated, non-reliable and non-admissible. This may lead to acquittal of the accused also.
Wayback Machine can prove an effective tool in the arsenal of enforcement agencies for combating wildlife crimes by securing extremely volatile digital evidences against the wildlife cyber criminals. The Wayback Machine is an open source tool developed by the Internet Archive. This tool archives the World Wide Web (WWW) and allows the users to go back in time to see how a digital platform looked like in the past. Thus, wildlife law enforcement agencies, using Wayback Machine, can retrieve the digital evidences against the accused from the archived snapshots of the digital patforms even if accused has deleted/deactivated his account/page on those digital platforms or shut down his website.
Let me explain how enforcement agencies can use Wayback Machine for intelligence collection and investigation to counter wildlife cyber crimes by discussing following hypothetical wildlife crime scenario:
Supposing wildlife law enforcement officer comes across a social media account/page or a website offering protected species of flora and fauna or their parts, products & derivatives for trade. Firstly, the enforcement officer can check whether Wayback Machine is archving that social media account/page/website or not by searching related URL in the search bar on homepage of Wayback Machine (https://web.archive.org/. If not, that social media account/page/website will start getting archived by putting the related URL in "Save Page Now" (please refer to the above image). Such archived data can be used as a trusted citation in the future. If that social media account/page/website is already being archived, the archived versions of that social media account/page/website can be accessed by clicking on a specific date on the calendar to view the available archived snapshots for that particular date (please refer to the below image).
By going through the archived data of the past, enforcement officer can also gather evidences about all the wildlife contrabands that wildlife cyber criminal has traded in the past apart from wildlife contrabands he is presently offering for sale. Such archived data can be obtained by the wildlife enforcement officer even when the wildlife cyber criminal get his social media account/page deleted/deactivated or shuts down his website as discussed above.
Such archived data, if obtained folowing the due process of law as prescribed by the respective jurisdiction, can be produced as admissible evidence against the accused by the prosecutors in the court of law during the trial for securing conviction of the wildlife cyber criminals.