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Champlain College's Digital Forensics Lab Renamed in Honor of Sen. Patrick Leahy 

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Apparently, it wasn't enough for Senator Patrick Leahy to lend his good name to the Center for Rural Studies at Lyndon State College and the ECHO Lake Acquarium and Science Center, the home-away-from-home for scores of turtles, lizards and other aquatic critters: This morning, the Champlain College Center for Digital Investigation was officially renamed to honor Vermont's senior-most senator and chief congressional patron.

At a Monday morning press conference, Champlain College President David Finney officially christened the college's new state-of-the-art digital forensics lab the Patrick Leahy Center for Digital Investigation — or LCDI for short. The new facility, which is housed in Champlain's brand-spanking-new Miller Center at Lakeside Campus in Burlington's South End, provides a high-tech and fully secure digital forensics lab that brings together students, police officers and other professional e-sleuthers. There, Champlain's computer and digital forensics students learn to recover evidence from computer hard drives, smartphones and other digital doohickeys.

What's it cost to get a forensics lab named after you? For starters, in 2010, Leahy landed a three-year, $500,000 Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) grant from the Department of Justice to provide educational and technical support to Vermont's law enforcement agencies for digital forensics investigations. That half-million-dollar grant came on top of a $650,000 grant Leahy secured in 2006 to staff Champlain's budding digital forensics program.

"Champlain College is building a real-world classroom that gives students careers skills for the 21st century, gives Vermont's law enforcement agencies a revolutionary digital forensics resource, and that once again shows Champlain College's incredible ability to innovate and implement cutting-edge learning programs," said Leahy, adding, "This is a program that already has proven itself invaluable in putting criminals behind bars."

St. Patrick should know — before getting elected senator in 1974, he put a few people behind bars himself. Prior to getting elected to the U.S. Senate at the tender age of 34, Leahy spent eight years as the Chittenden County state's attorney, the lead prosecutor in the state's busiest county. Leahy, who ranks second in seniority in the Senate, now chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, a position that earned him, among other honors, an anthrax-laced letter in 2001 — one crime for which no one has ever been prosecuted.

Champlain's digital forensic lab just got up and running last month but is already providing a valuable resource to the greater Burlington community. The lab can provide low-cost digital forensics work to Vermont businesses, and free digital-recovery services to all Champlain students, faculty and staff members who, say, accidentally crash their laptops or drop a Droid in the toilet.

Jonathan Rajewski is a digital forensics examiner with the Vermont Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force and co-director, along with Aussie-native Michael Wilkinson, of the new Leahy Center. Like all types of criminal evidence — including fingerprints, murder weapons and DNA samples —  digital evidence must be collected and preserved in a "forensically verifiable manner," says Rajewski, so it's not damaged or destroyed in the process. Examiners like Rajewski and Wilkinson are typically hired by police — or attorneys in civil cases — to access the contents of digital devices, from smartphones to network servers, without altering the original content.

Although Leahy Center students don't work directly on criminal cases per se — only Rajewski and Wilkinson can handle those types of investigations — Champlain students receive the same training and tools, as those used by police investigators. Moreover, students are tasked with other digital projects on behalf of Vermont law enforcement agencies, freeing up their personnel for more urgent criminal investigations.

"With this upgrade, Champlain can now be part of meeting Vermont's expanding needs for digital forensics through education, examinations, handling casework and evidence management," said Finney. "There is a growing need for digital evidence expertise in courts of law, and Champlain is positioning itself to be the premier destination for those who want to study this emerging field of forensics."

Currently, LCDI services are available to all Vermont-based companies, municipalities and law enforcement agencies, usually at a fraction of the price of larger out-of-state forensics or data-recovery firms. For more information, visit their website here or call (802) 860-2700 or 1-800-570-5858.

Photo courtesy of Stephen Mease, Champlain College.

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Ken Picard

Ken Picard

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Ken Picard has been a Seven Days staff writer since 2002. He has won numerous awards for his work, including the Vermont Press Association's 2005 Mavis Doyle award, a general excellence prize for reporters.

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