Arizona Corporation Commissioner (ACC) Bob Stump is one court decision away from potentially being in a lot of trouble. And he’s not alone. His magical thinking does not change that fact.
Our request to obtain 3,547 potential public records exchanged by Mr. Stump on his taxpayer-funded iPhone with 18 individuals that worked for or did business with the ACC has come down, in part, to a concept unknown to most people other than coders and cybersecurity experts. It’s called a HASH value.
Twenty years ago, DNA evidence was unknown to most of us. Now it’s a commonplace tool used by investigators. Today, in our digital world, investigators use HASH values to verify the integrity of data sent through insecure channels, such as emails and text messages. The hash value of received data can be compared to the hash value of sent data to determine whether the data was altered.
Crucial Evidence Missing
On May 4th, AGO forensic investigator Jim Connell declared to Judge Randall Warner that the fact he did not supply HASH values from his search of Stump’s phone “does not demonstrate the inadequacy” of his search.
Everything that could have been done has been done, argued Assistant AG Karen Hartman-Tellez. That her investigator found only 36 or 1% of the 3,547 text messages we have targeted is beside the point. That they were blank doesn’t matter. There’s no need to search Stump’s phone again. Case closed.
The problem is that argument is entirely wrong. Connell’s statement raises significant questions for Judge Warner to consider:
- Did Connell improperly use the digital forensic programs?
- Does he not understand the contents of the reports generated?
- What about his helpers from the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office?
- Is this a case of simple incompetence?
- Or is there another reason HASH values were not supplied?
Call In An Expert
Like you, perhaps, we had never heard of HASH values either when we first requested text messages about solar energy from Commissioner Stump’s phone on March 11, 2015. So we hired an expert.
Phoenix-based, digital forensic expert Bryan Neumeister has conducted 200+ cases in the past 36 months. He is a contracted technical expert with U.S. District Courts, U.S. Dept. of Justice, the U.S. Army, and is a forensic consultant to the U.S. Grand Jury system. He is currently working over 30 homicide cases.
“In my experience, I have never seen data extracted from a smart phone that did not contain unique HASH values for each extracted text message…. [I]t is very unlikely that any search would have revealed the existence of text messages without content.”
Problem for Defendants
The lack of HASH values and content in the 36 text messages that the AG’s Office were able to find strongly indicates that the entire search of Stump’s phone was inadequate.
The charitable interpretation of why is that Connell and his buddies from the Pinal County Sheriff’s Department were simply not up to the task.
Last year, using a Verizon text message log, we identified 3,547 of Commissioner Bob Stump’s text messages as possible public records. We are close to ending this saga if Judge Warner allows a recognized expert to download the phone.
Scott Peterson is executive director of the Checks and Balances Project, a national watchdog blog that seeks to hold government officials, lobbyists and corporate management accountable to the public. Funding for C&BP comes from clean energy philanthropies and donors.