Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Codes of Ethics

Given Sunday's post about the many people out there claiming to be experts in Forensic Video Analysis, I began wondering if the courts could/should enforce a Code of Ethics.

I think many of the organizations out there for people that do what we do have some sort of statement about ethics or an actual Code of Ethics. The IACIS, for example, has theirs on their membership page.

IACIS Code of Ethics
IACIS members must demonstrate and maintain the highest standards of ethical conduct.

IACIS members must:

  • Maintain the highest level of objectivity in all forensic examinations and accurately present the facts involved.
  • Thoroughly examine and analyze the evidence in a case.
  • Conduct examinations based upon established, validated principles.
  • Render opinions having a basis that is demonstratively reasonable.
  • Not withhold any findings, whether inculpatory or exculpatory, that would cause the facts of a case to be misrepresented or distorted.
  • Never misrepresent credentials, education, training, and experience or membership status.
How incredibly refreshing.

But, can an examiner accurately present the facts involved if they don't understand the science behind the tools and techniques that they employ? Can an examiner thoroughly examine and analyze the evidence if they don't have the appropriate tools - or those tools are out of date? Can "it just doesn't look right to me" be an established and valid principle? Is demonstratively reasonable too much to ask? Does your inclusion on the Superior Court's list of experts sufficient proof of your training, experience, and education?

To pull something like this off at the Superior Court level, it would take a court panel and judge that invests a bit of time to see what's out there in terms of gear, what the science says, who's doing what, and etc. 

I understand that the Courts are massively overworked. But, if you put a list out there, it should mean something. Sadly, the video/image section of LA County's list needs a bit of trimming.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Turning a filter on or off in Amped FIVE

At a recent training session, the topic of what to do with filters if you've used them but don't want to have them influence what's being displayed - but you still want them on your report.

Obviously, you can throw filters away. But, in doing so, the filter's settings won't appear on the report.

In the Filter Settings box (top right) you'll see a small check box. This is the On/Off button. Check in the box, the filter's on and the settings are reflected in the workflow. No check in the box, and the settings are not reflected.

Where this comes in handy is when you're using an edge detection filter, like Sobel, and you don't want your image/video looking like a modern art masterpiece. Once you've found your edges and performed task that required knowing the location of the edges (like Measure 1D, etc), turn the filter off. In this way, your filter use is reflected in the report.

Think of this like turning on/off layers in Photoshop.

Many thanks to John U. from the SLC PD for taking the initiative to install and try the program ahead of the training, and for actually reading the support documentation and watching the training videos. Also, thanks to John for making my time at SLC run smooth. It's always nice to hit the ground running.

BTW, if you're interested in bringing a training session to your agency, just send a note. 2015 is going to a busy training year, but there's still some openings in my calendar.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Who are these people, anyway?

One of the nice things my county does is it maintains a list of approved experts in various fields. Folks can find this list when looking for an expert for their court case. What could possibly go wrong?!

I'm on this list. So are many others. My own experience with getting on this list was simple, I filled out a form and submitted it along with my CV. That was it. A month or so later, my name was on the list.

Recently, I received a note from a friend about an "expert" who happens to be on this list. It involves pending litigation, but I have experience with this person from a trial in which I was previously involved (read this for some insight on this person's methodology). It got me to thinking, who are these people? Were do they come from? What makes them "experts" in their fields? So, here you go:
  • Arlan Boll - A B Audio. Seemingly and audio engineer. University degree in Music Theory ('74). The only mention that I could find related to his forensic training is that he's had some "on the job instruction" from George Reis of Imaging Forensics. No hint about the content or when this happened.
  • Douglas Carner - Forensic Protection. I've written a bit about Mr. Carner in the past. It seems that he's been working hard to improve offerings and stature within the community. I wish him all the best.
  • Sean Coetzee - Prism Forensics. The web site is "coming soon." From his LinkedIn profile, it looks like he's taken courses from UC Denver and from vendors like DAC after getting a BA in Music Production. That's encouraging. What's not encouraging is that he's listed his AFCEI membership.  His Twitter feed notes "Prism Forensics LLC is a certified audio forensic consulting service, specializing in the authentication and enhancement of digital & analogue recordings." Unfortunately, the only "certification" that I could find on his LinkedIn page comes from The New York Institute of Forensic Audio, a division of the rather discredited Owen Forensic Services.
  • Thomas L Guzman-Sanchez - GS Media Group. The website notes that he's a member of LEVA, the IAI, and the AES. I could find nothing about his training or qualifications.
  • Wesley L. Dooley - Audio Engineering Associates. Wes is well known as the "Ribbon Mic Guy." He's not too well known in the forensics world.
  • Jim Hoerricks - Forensic Analysis Associates, LLC. Hopefully, you know me by now.
  • W. Kent Gibson - Forensic Audio. One of a few contract examiners used by the LASD.
  • Michael L. Jones - Digital Evidence Legal Evidence Services. The Superior Court lists his expertise as "Security Cameras, Audio / Video Enhancement / Analysis." I can't find his training or experience listed that would support the claim of expertise in enhancement or analysis. It seems that he came from Hollywood as a cameraman and editor. So, he's probably is well qualified videographer.
  • Ronald S. Guzek - KGR Production Labs. I have had the occasion to work on the same case (different side) as Mr. Guzek. I was thoroughly unimpressed with his testimony, work product, and methodology. According to his testimony, he's not an "expert." He just puts things out there and lets the Jury members make up their own minds.
  • Charles Alan Keel's inclusion on the list in this area is likely a typo.
  • Howard E. Mattern - Mattern's Video Productions. "Mattern's Video Productions, Inc. (MVP) is a full time video production company that has been providing forensic services since 1978." The web site uses Ocean Systems' marketing examples to illustrate MVP's forensic services. Not a good sign, if you ask me. Obviously out of date, his web site notes that he's using the latest, state-of-the-art gear, like the Avid Meridian Express. Would an ROTFLOL be inappropriate here?!
  • Keith Rosenthal. Why is Napa Valley's "Corporate and Event Photographer" on this list? 
  • David Notowitz - National Center for Audio and Video Forensics. An award winning Hollywood producer, videographer, and editor turned "forensic expert." If you're interested in retaining David, ask for a complete listing of cases in Ventura County, Ca., where he's offered his expertise. Then, pull the transcripts.
  • Gregg M. Stuchman - Stuchman Forensic Laboratory. He proudly states that he's a member of Scott Kelby's National Association of Photoshop Professionals - which doesn't really exist anymore and never had much, if anything, to do with forensics. He's also a member of the ABRE, which is an offshoot of the AFCEI. He's a Cognitech customer, which may be a good thing - if his gear is up to date and he's been through their training courses. 
  • Hank Waring - FDS Labs. An audio engineer with a marketing slick for a CV. I've heard that he has some Ocean Systems gear along with a pretty good audio studio.
  • George Reis - Imaging Forensics. When I have to turn a case down and the person is looking for a referral, George is my first and only choice. I've had the privilege of taking classes from George. His book is on my bookshelf. His work with LEVA and the IAI is well respected. You'll also find his fingerprints in Amped Software's FIVE and Authenticate, as well as many versions of Adobe's many products. 
So there you have it. There's the list along with my commentary. Other than George Reis' inclusion on the list, I've not been impressed by what I've found. Some use their work for a particular news outlet's coverage of a popular story as having "worked the case." I find that to be misleading. Others list their experience in vague terms. Still others have examples on their website that just make me cringe. So, what makes an expert an expert? It would seem that simply filling out and submitting a form is all that's necessary. Sad but true.

So, if you're interested in retaining an expert, do your homework. Don't take my opinion here as gospel. Don't ask the expert if he/she is qualified to work your case. Ask questions about their previous testimony. Ask for case numbers and pull transcripts. Do you want your "authentication expert" to testify that he "listens to the tape and notes when things just don't sound right?" Do you want a "video expert" that has no experience or training with DVRs and the many types of files that they produce. You probably want an expert that is vendor trained/certified on the tools that they use. It may be expensive, but there isn't a vendor in the "forensic software/hardware" space that doesn't offer training on their own gear. Also, look for training that is appropriate to the discipline and relevant to your case. Here's a good hint, if you're looking for an image authentication expert and they mention that they're a certified expert in Photoshop, keep looking. Photoshop has nothing to do with image authentication.

Some will likely get mad at me for putting this post together as I have. So be it. I may hurt a few people's feelings. But there's a larger issue at stake. When someone on this list of "trusted experts" goes into trial and speaks from an orifice other than his/her mouth, we all look bad and the industry suffers for it. When the opposing side's expert in People v. Abdullah [(BA353334) Los Angeles County Superior Court, December 2009] had no idea about his tools, couldn't articulate his techniques, had no training or experience working with DVRs, and was later disqualified after he proclaimed on the stand, "Well, I'm no expert," we all suffer. Remember, some attorney found him somewhere and retained his services.

As always, I invite your comments.

Friday, October 17, 2014

New Partnership Provides Law Enforcement With Digital Evidence Solution

Homeland Security Today recently featured a story on the partnership between MediaSolv and Amped Software. Whilst it's true that no single vendor provides an end to end solution for our digital evidence needs, this new partnership gets really close. When you factor MediaSolv's work with Cellebrite into the equation, MediaSolv looks even better. Check out the article here.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Forensic Focus asks Amped Software, can you get that license plate?

This just in from Forensic Focus: "We find ourselves analyzing new surveillance videos almost every day, and in most cases we can either solve the problem very quickly or understand (even quicker) that there is no information to recover in the video. In special cases though, where something very specific and strange happened, or the problem is very complex, it can take a lot of time.

As always… Pareto principle: you solve 80% of the cases in 20% of the time, and, well, 20% of the cases takes 80% of the time. In our own work, the right numbers are probably 95% to 5%, but the idea still holds.

With our experience in working on several thousand cases, we can estimate whether an image or video contains some information and is worth processing, or not, very quickly. In this article, we will describe some of the tests that can be done to quickly tell if you can get that license plate!"

Continue reading the article over on Forensic Focus.