Monday, December 15, 2014

Nothing can be created from nothing

The folks at Amped Software just posted this awesome article over on their blog about the myths vs. science of video enhancement. Check it out by clicking here.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Image Conscious Investigations

In the first edition of the new The Forensic Investigator publication, Amped Software looks at the growing world of digital multimedia evidence and the challenges investigators face in gathering evidence.

"Everywhere we go, we see people taking photos or recording videos on their mobile phones. There is an increased use of surveillance cameras by governments, businesses and private house owners. The use of drones and satellite video is expanding. There is also an increase in the number of officers wearing body-worn cameras. Car manufacturers are also participating in this digital multimedia world by installing video cameras in vehicles. The positive effects of this is that there is a high probability that someone caught a crime on camera so investigators have a lot of evidence to work with. The bad thing is that many times that evidence cannot immediately be analyzed and used. Keeping aside the privacy and social issues that evidence coming from these devices may cause, there are often several technical issues that do not permit investigators to use the photo or video evidence immediately."

Read the full article here.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Deciding to Use Body Worn Video

With the recent troubles around the country, many agencies are declaring their intent to purchase body worn video cameras for their officers. While this might quiet down some folks cries for transparency, the devil's always in the details.

Prices for good recorders range from $300 - $1500 per unit for the initial purchase. If the agency has 100 officers on patrol at any one time, do the math. Then, do you only equip patrol units, or do detectives and other police representatives need units? What about those who want a camera on every police employee? The point - each camera costs money to buy and deploy. That money has to come from somewhere. For agencies with a lot of "risk management problems," these cameras will help the agency save money initially. For those with good community relations - where will the money come from for the purchase?

Remember that technology has a life span. Thus, the tech will need to replaced/refreshed every 3 to 5 years. This means that the initial purchase price will likely be due every 3 to 5 years.

For every piece of police equipment, there's an associated maintenance cost. There's the actual work of repairing/replacing defective units and there's the fee that the manufacturer charges for "maintenance" - usually somewhere between 5% and 20% of the original purchase price - for the life of the program. This is where agencies usually skimp. This is why camera programs tend to have a three year life span - no money for maintenance. The sad fact is that there's always money somewhere to initiate a program - it looks good for the voters. No one ever got re-elected for paying for a maintenance program.

Every minute of recorded video has to be stored somewhere. That too has a cost. Some agencies have policies prohibiting the use of cloud services. These agencies will need to store the video locally. Some have questions about the ability to access evidence stored with could-based providers if the agency decides to change providers. Servers, discs, cloud storage - they all have a cost. The agency's retention policy + the amount of units in the field + the quality settings for the video will dictate the annual storage costs.

If the agency decides to skimp on recording quality, then the requests for "enhancement" will be increased. If the agency has forensic video analysts, their workload will increase significantly. The agency, facing backlogs, will either have to accept the backlogs or spend money on overtime and/or more staff.

Agencies will need to deal with requests for copies of the recordings from the public, internally, and from the courts. Again, this is not without cost - even for small agencies. Remember, staff and salary costs are recurring. Adding staff in tough economic times can be a tough sell.

But, as agencies rush to purchase equipment, there needs to be a rational policy behind the use of these recorders. When to record. What to record. Who gets cameras. Who doesn't. Recording quality. Storage policy. Retention policy. Release policy. As the above linked story from Tyler, Tx, illustrates, the City Council approved the purchase before a policy is in place. That might quiet the public, but it puts the police in a bind down the road. Without a policy, how does the agency know if the initial purchase is enough? What about allocating money for the other parts of the puzzle?

The final piece of the police side of this complex issue is a stable funding source. Agencies like Omaha (see above link) that choose to fund cameras with "asset forfeiture funds" may run into trouble if those funds run low. It's better to fund these types of programs from a regular budget item - but that might not be possible politically in many cities.

So, the bottom line will be - how much are the taxpayers willing to spend and what will they get for that "investment?" As with everything, you get what you pay for.

Friday, December 5, 2014

PhotoDetective Kickstarter

The other day, I received a nice email from a doctoral student about a project he's working on.

I am a doctoral student and researcher at the University of Illinois. I am a very passionate about digital forensics, and I follow your blog regularly and am glad someone is covering the literature and news as you are in this field, because there would be a depsrate shortage without it.

I have recently made a forensics computer program that might be of interest to you.

The software can provide insight into whether or not an image has been manipulated or altered. It does so through a simple graphic interface and uses over a dozen algorithms from the digital forensic literature (many of which you are probably already aware of).

If you are interested in seeing what the program and results look like, here is a link to a Kickstarter page that gives more detail and contains screenshots.

Well, of course I'm interested. You might be too. From the looks of the Kickstarter page, the program will offer some of the basic tests for image authentication. He'll also ship an instruction manual to describe each test. Not a bad deal.

I would encourage you to check out the Kickstarter page, and if you're so inclined, help with a small contribution towards its development.

As always, when I get my copy I'll put it through its paces and let you know what I think.


Thursday, December 4, 2014

Police Uses of Force

With yesterday's ruling in Staten Island related to the in-custody death of Eric Garner, I've received quite a few requests for comment on the video from various media outlets and bloggers. I've declined them all.

Here are just a couple of reasons why I've decided to decline their requests.
  • Most requests suffered from presuppositional bias. Use of the words "chokehold death," presupposes a cause of death that is not in evidence. I'm not a lawyer, but I've been around these types of investigations for quite some time and they're usually called either an "arrest related death" or an "in custody death."  The reason this is important is the need for consistency in terms. (The Deaths in Custody Reporting Program (DCRP) collects data on deaths that occur in the process of arrest, or while inmates are in the custody of local jails or state prisons.) This is how the federal government terms what happened, and how they track in custody deaths nationwide. Depending on when the death occurred in the custody process determines if it's an "arrest related death" or an "in custody death."
  • Most requests referred me to a link to view a redacted or otherwise edited copy of the video. As you know, from reading this blog over the years, we analysts generally only work on first generation video. 
I have my own opinions on the death of Mr. Garner. I keep those to myself. If asked questions about the video, I would conduct the appropriate scientific tests and report the results. As a scientist, I go where the evidence takes me.