Monday, August 16, 2010

Colin Smith's Rebuttal

From Adobe's Colin Smith: "Hello Jim,

I appreciate you taking the time to read this as I am responding to your blog post regarding forensic techniques and an eSeminar I did for law enforcement.

Just a little history about me, I have been working at Adobe for over 13 years and I have been using Photoshop since 2.0 and helping law enforcement for many years. The work that I have done with law enforcement, including helping to rescue exploited children, is what I am most proud of. It is the most serious work I do and with it comes the responsibility to make sure the officers I train have all the tools they need and that they stay within the boundaries of the law.

I distinctly remember the eSeminar that your reader mentioned and I received numerous positive emails and comments on how effective the training was. I really wish the reader had asked me upfront during the Q&A period if they needed something clarified as others did. My seminars are never meant as a monologue and if you ask my customers, colleagues and friends, they will tell you how effective they are.

I still believe that there are two distinct workflows, one for investigation and another for court presentation. These workflows came about from talking to law enforcement directly and their feedback that if a method or technique did not help their case, then it was not presented nor was it given to the defense. And actually, isn't this the way that all investigation works; if a witness testimony isn't helpful, then that witness will not be called to testify?

When I tell my students to "push the envelope" or "get creative" (which I most certainly do) I am trying to get them to understand that they should not feel intimidated by the tools in any software package. Computer software isn't like a fingerprint that can easily be destroyed; the software, computer, and copied evidence files can all be replaced with 100% fidelity. This is one of the most difficult things for new users to understand as many are afraid to "push the wrong button".

When they employ a confident mindset into the workflow, they will inevitably discover new things in Photoshop on their own. I consider my background as a professional retoucher in the world of advertising to be an advantage to my forensic techniques as I can draw on inventive ways to achieve results. I know you're probably bristling at the term "inventive" but you cannot discount the fact that what you are doing in Photoshop is inventing methods to uncover evidence in an image. There is nothing different between that and inventing ways to use black-lights, lasers or heated cyanoacrylate to uncover physical evidence. I consider all of these techniques, and much of what Thomas Edison did, as being "creative". BUT, I never encourage any of these terms to be used in court. That's why I think there are two separate workflows. The bottom line is, if I work in Photoshop as if the jury is looking over my shoulder, then I would never attempt to try anything that I wasn't 100% sure would be a success, but in doing so, I could be missing a new and effective method of revealing evidence that would help convict a guilty party.

On the subject of reproducibility, I'm with you 100%. My main bullet points from that seminar are as follows:
• Importing & archiving images with Adobe Bridge®
• Keywords and metadata
• Understanding channels and color isolation
• Adjustment layers and non-destructive editing
• Noise reduction
• How to ensure data integrity
• Repeatable procedures
• Creating presentations with callouts and text
• Measurement tools
• Correcting image distortion
• Comparing images using layers
• Image sharpening and deblurring
• CCTV image enhancement and importing
• Working with images from video
• Protecting images with PDF security

It should be obvious from this list of what I presented that your statement saying, "Why Smith would advise law enforcement users to use a workflow that is not repeatable at any step of the process is beyond me", is inaccurate. My seminars insist that techniques and methods MUST be repeatable or they are not going to hold up in court. And at no point do I ever encourage anyone to manufacture evidence in any way shape or form.

And lastly on "expediency": the point I was making is in some cases, like child exploitation, locating and rescuing a victim is extremely important and the longer it takes, the more danger and suffering that victim will be subject to. But again, I never advocate taking shortcuts to circumvent the law. All methods and techniques must be documented and reproducible.

I hope this helps to clear up any misconceptions you may have on the way that Adobe communicates with law enforcement. It is our goal to provide the best forensic tools to help law enforcement fight crime.

Colin Smith


My thanks to Colin for clarifying the issue, including his statement, "All methods and techniques must be documented and reproducible."



Anonymous said...

Jim ... thanks for posting Colin's comments. I'd like to know more about Colin's upcoming LE classes. Can you post a list please.
Grant Fredericks

Bill McGarry said...

Hi Jim. I would also like to thank you for posting this response. I have received training from Colin and his expertise has helped me locate and rescue many children around the globe. In the early stages of my learning curve with Photoshop I did not use it to its fullest potential. Colin has helped me "push the envelope" and learn countless ways to use forensically sound techniques to reveal details in images that lead me to a rescue and/or an arrest. As we all know in Photoshop there are numerous ways to do the same thing. I think that what Colin refers to is "getting out of the box" in your head and using Photoshop like a power user would to unleash its full potential in a non-destructive forensic way. Great advice from both of you.