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Monday, March 29, 2010

Judge urges skepticism on forensic evidence

From the Boston Globe:

"“CSI’’ may make for gripping television, but US District Court Judge Nancy Gertner says forensic evidence isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be.

In a move that some legal scholars said may be the first by a federal judge, Gertner has ordered defense lawyers and prosecutors not to assume that evidence routinely accepted in the courts for decades is reliable. Defense lawyers, she wrote, should vigorously challenge fingerprints, bullet identification, handwriting, and other trace evidence, and prosecutors should be prepared to show it is valid.

“In the past, the admissibility of this kind of evidence was effectively presumed, largely because of its pedigree — the fact that it had been admitted for decades,’’ Gertner wrote in a March 8 order. “As such, counsel rarely challenged it, and if it were challenged, it was rarely excluded or limited.’’

That needs to change, she said. A critique last year by the National Academy of Sciences, she noted, concluded that forensic evidence used to convict thousands of defendants for nearly a century is hardly the infallible proof of police procedurals on television. Too often, the study found, it is the product of sloppy practices that should be improved and standardized.

Spurred by the report and criminal cases she has presided over, Gertner wrote that the validity of such evidence “ought not to be presumed’’ and that defense attorneys should contest it at pretrial hearings, or explain why they do not. She will allow the evidence to go before a jury only if it meets sound scientific principles.

Defense lawyers and advocates for people who have been wrongly convicted of crimes welcomed Gertner’s order."

Read the rest of the story by clicking here.


Sunday, March 28, 2010

Using GPS to get out of a speeding ticket?

From CNET:

An Ohio man is trying to beat a speeding ticket through an unusual defense: claiming that his cell phone's GPS records show he was driving under the speed limit.

Jason Barnes received two points on his license and a $35 fine for allegedly driving 84 mph in a 65 mph portion of Interstate 75 in March 2009. But he says that his employer uses GPS tracking on his Verizon Wireless phone to detect speed limit violations--and those logs prove he wasn't speeding.

Click here to read the rest of the story.


Saturday, March 27, 2010

Police: Surveillance footage becomes key tool in solving crimes

From the Tampa Bay On-Line:

"... Although a useful tool in the digital age, there are still caveats associated with surveillance footage when it comes to courtroom testimony.

Videos can be misleading if they're shown without context, said Michael Sinacore, the felony bureau chief of the Hillsborough State Attorney's Office. Other than bank robberies, most clips used in trials show part of the story, he said. Usually, there's no sound in surveillance footage and an audio soundtrack can fill in gaps.

Yet video has helped prosecutors confirm the speed of cars in vehicular homicide cases and prove that people who testified they were victims of a robbery were actually the perpetrators, he said.

"You always have to look at video with a certain level of caution," Sinacore said. "But it could still be a valuable piece of evidence ..."

Click here to read the complete the story.


Friday, March 26, 2010

Photoshop to the rescue

"How Photoshop Helped Save My Dad from eBay Fraud" by by Michael Zhang (on Petapixel.com)

My dad is an avid stamp collector. While he does have some US stamps in his collection, he mainly focuses on older stamps from China.

He used to purchase stamps exclusively from reputable stamp companies, but recently he’s been looking for good deals on rare stamps through eBay.

In the world of stamps, errors often cause the stamp to be worth much more than its face value since they’re highly sought after by collectors.

One such stamp is a 1962 stamp showing Tsai Lun, the inventor of paper. Right before the stamps were to begin the printing process, they discovered that the birth date had an extra character that erroneously listed the birth date as BC rather than AD. They had to correct the printing plates manually, but omitted one of them, causing a single error stamp to be printed with each batch.

Click here to continue reading and to find out how Photoshop came to the rescue of this stamp collector.


CS5 is here!

This just in from Adobe:

"Join us April 12 and make your mark."

"With the right tools, your creative horizon changes. A tree is still timber, but suddenly in a whole new way. Old ideas germinate again, and new ideas branch into unexpected opportunities. Welcome to Adobe® Creative Suite® 5—software that will allow you to reach more people, more effectively, in more places, with whatever masterpiece you can imagine."

"Join us for the exclusive Global Online Launch Event, Monday, April 12, 2010."

Click here to register.


Thursday, March 25, 2010

The importance of context

Here's an editorial from the Victoria Times Colonist that illustrates the need to preserve content and context when dealing with video.

Like the media's biassed editing of the Rodney King incident, "The video gives viewers a gut-wrenching sense of what happened during a brief period of time, less than a minute, early Sunday morning. What it does not show, however, is the initial assault, the arrival of the police, or the actions of all the men being arrested."

While the thrust of the piece is about "the need" for officers to utilise body worn video, I think it's subtext is that content and context is of vital importance ... and what happens (bad) when they aren't preserved.


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Recording audio and the law

Whilst touring the ISC floor, I happened across the Louroe Electronics booth. (In fairness, I happen to be a long time and loyal customer, having used their venerable Verifact C microphones for almost a decade.)

I can't even begin to count the times that I've come across a CCTV installation that contained microphones in retail spaces, done without the requisite legal notices. Louroe takes the legal notification requirements very seriously.

United States Codes, Title 18, Section 2510 (2) states:
Oral communication means any "oral communication" uttered by a person exhibiting an expectation that such communication is not subject to interception under circumstances justifying such expectation.

By definition of the code section, a person cannot have an expectation of privacy, nor can he or she expect that communication will not be intercepted, if there are public signs posted, indicating that the communication is being monitored.

The First Amendment of the Constitution provides that any conversation between individuals is private, unless otherwise notified. In simple terms, this means that any overhearing or recording of a conversation is illegal ...unless both parties are aware that it is being done.

In order to comply with the law, LOUROE ELECTRONICS provides a disclaimer stating, AUDIO MONITORING ON THE PREMISES. These disclaimers must be affixed, in plain view, to all entrances where the microphones are installed.

It is suggested that distributors notify customers, at the time of installation (or sale) of the equipment, that disclaimers must be in plain view at all entrances and exits.

In that some state laws may vary, it is further suggested that you consult with your local attorney, and become fully aware of the local laws in this regard.

Federal Law References:
Federal Regulations, US Code, Title 18. Crime and Criminal Procedure, Sec 2510. (borrowed from the Louroe web site)

I like it when companies take their responsibilities seriously. When they do, they deserve a little extra recognition. It's important to realise that just because you can install microphones and listen in to your employees conversations doesn't mean that you should. If you do, you must understand the law as it pertains to these types of installations. Store owners have the added responsibility of letting their employees know that they whilst they are listening, they aren't "eavesdropping" on the employees private conversations - that they mics are just there to handle "business problems."


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

ISC West

I'm off to ISC West.

Each new year brings a record number of new DVRs, NVRs, and other new types of VRs. It's always fun to see how compressed video can get. It's even more fun talking with vendors. Most vendors consider the needs of the LE community "mildly interesting."

Nevertheless, it's off to ISC West. Having contact info from the vendors is vital when you're trying to figure out player/codec downloads and such.


Monday, March 22, 2010

Caught on Camera

Best Practices for the Installation of Closed-Circuit Television Recording Systems

The Forensic Audio, Video and Image Analysis Unit (FAVIAU) of the FBI’s Operational Technology Division, presents Best Practices for the Installation of CCTV Recording Systems.  The GRAND RELEASE of the DVD will take place at the ISC-West Conference March 24th and March 25th.  At the conference there will be three sessions available for attendees to view the video and have a question and answer session with two examiners from the FBI.

This is a must-see DVD for fans of the television series 24. FBI Special Agent Renee Walker narrates the 20-minute program, which is based on a realistic case scenario featuring the do’s and don’ts of CCTV setup. The DVD contains exciting footage that captivates the audience while providing guidance to install CCTV to obtain the best possible recorded footage. Topics include general setup, resolution, cameras and camera placement, best collection methods of the recorded footage for law enforcement, native/proprietary file format, retrieval methods, and much more.

The DVD is available free to international, federal, state, and local governments involved in law enforcement, security, and counterterrorism activities. The FBI also encourages law enforcement to provide the DVD to anyone who owns, operates, installs, or is responsible for the purchase of CCTV recording systems. Educators, contractors, vendors, suppliers, and other interested parties may also obtain the DVD free.

To request a copy of the DVD send an email to cctvdvd[at]leo[dot]gov.  Requests should include the requester’s name, position, agency name, street address (no post office boxes), and telephone number. Due to the volume of requests we expect, please allow extra time for delivery.

The video is available for viewing on fbi.gov.


Saturday, March 20, 2010

The value of expertise

Here's a link to an interesting discussion on the merits of requiring a license to practice as a forensic examiner.

"... I run into computer service guys all the time that are now suddenly doing "forensics".

The recurring problem with that scenario is that they have no training or knowledge of evidence handling or preservation. The reason that people are vulnerable to this is simple: People think that computer expertise equals computer forensics expertise.

I submit that it does not ..."


Friday, March 19, 2010

Upgrading Photoshop

This just in from Adobe's John Nack:

"If you're still on CS1 and want to upgrade, now's a good time

If you own a product from the first generation of the Creative Suite (e.g. Photoshop CS, released in 2003) and want to be able to upgrade it to a more recent version, now's a good time to pull the trigger.

I'm not hinting about the possible timing of future releases. I am noting, however, that Adobe introduced a "three versions back" policy a couple of years ago. That means that you can upgrade from CS, CS2, or CS3 to the current version (CS4). When the current version goes up by one, so will the cutoff for upgrades. Therefore if you're holding onto a copy of CS and may want to upgrade it at some point, well, you shouldn't wait too long."


Thursday, March 18, 2010

Missing or malfunctioning video

Here's a link to an interesting post about "missing or malfunctioning" video/audio and police testimony.

One judge on the case wrote, "At trial, Officer Evans described Appellant as unable to stand without swaying or holding on to the wall and unable to properly perform the field sobriety tests. The videotape reveals that Appellant swayed less than the officer and that Appellant performed substantially better than she did on the field sobriety tests." Officer testimony should not be accepted at face value over contradictory video evidence."

Remember, there are cameras everywhere.

That being said, there's every reason to make sure that the recording is authentic, has a proper chain of custordy, and accurately depicts the scene. In most cases, everything checks out and there are no problems. However, there are the occasional problems. That's where a trained and qualified analyst can make all the difference in the world. When in doubt, just reach out to your friendly local video expert for help.


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Windows 7 sound configuration issues

From Adobe's Ron Day, "We have been contacted by several users reporting that they have been unable to record properly into Audition or Soundbooth after switching to Windows 7. In every case thus far the cause has either been improper configuration in the Windows OS, incorrect input devices specified in Audition/Soundbooth, or making use of older sound card drivers or drivers not suitable for use in Windows 7 (32 or 64 bit).

One reason for the confusion in Windows 7 is the fact that the operating system now gives you much more control over the inputs and outputs. You must make sure that you have the correct device and input chosen in Windows 7 before any software application can record input. Audition and Soundbooth must also be configured properly, but the operating system settings will always control the input (unless you are using a higher end sound card that has a control panel of its own).

Click here for the rest of the story and the configuration help.


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The right to an attorney

In an interesting law suit in New York, the Public Defender program is being challenged as inadequate and failing to meet the requirements under Gideon v Wainright.

All of this begs the question, if you have the right to a public defender, do you also have the right to all the services that are available to the state? Services such as crime labs, latent print analysts, video analysts, and the like? If the courts are forced to appoint counsel, will the also be forced to appoint forensic practitioners?

"... You have the right to the services of forensic experts. If you can not afford these experts, they shall be appointed for you at no cost to you. Do you understand these rights as I have read them to you? ..."

Needless to say, we'll be watching this case closely.


Monday, March 15, 2010

The first Photoshop demo

Watch as John Knoll recreates the very first Photoshop demo (from 20 years ago).


Friday, March 12, 2010

Batch printing PDFs

Here's an outstanding tutorial on batch printing PDFs using Acrobat 9.


Thursday, March 11, 2010

Fourth Amendment Seizures of Computer Data

Here's a link to an outstanding article from the Yale Law Review.

"Abstract. What does it mean to “seize” computer data for Fourth Amendment purposes? Does copying data amount to a seizure, and if so, when? This Article argues that copying data “seizes” it under the Fourth Amendment when copying occurs without human observation and interrupts the stream of possession or transmission. It offers this position by reaching back to the general purposes of regulating seizures in Fourth Amendment law and then applying those functions to the new environment of computers. The test prevents the government from copying data without regulation and yet also meets and answers the objections that have puzzled scholars and made it difficult to apply the old definition of seizures in the new computer environment."


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

8 Million requests for Sprint GPS data?

From the Slight Paranoia blog:

"... Sprint Nextel provided law enforcement agencies with its customers' (GPS) location information over 8 million times between September 2008 and October 2009. This massive disclosure of sensitive customer information was made possible due to the roll-out by Sprint of a new, special web portal for law enforcement officers."

Click here to read the rest of the post.


Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Spy Cameras Won't Make Us Safer

From CNN's Bruce Schneier:

"Pervasive security cameras don't substantially reduce crime. This fact has been demonstrated repeatedly: in San Francisco public housing, in a New York apartment complex, in Philadelphia, in Washington, DC, in study after study in both the U.S. and the U.K. Nor are they instrumental in solving many crimes after the fact.

There are exceptions, of course, and proponents of cameras can always cherry-pick examples to bolster their argument. These success stories are what convince us; our brains are wired to respond more strongly to anecdotes than to data. But the data is clear: CCTV cameras have minimal value in the fight against crime.

While it's comforting to imagine vigilant police monitoring every camera, the truth is very different, for a variety of reasons: technological limitations of cameras, organizational limitations of police, and the adaptive abilities of criminals. No one looks at most CCTV footage until well after a crime is committed. And when the police do look at the recordings, it's very common for them to be unable to identify suspects. Criminals don't often stare helpfully at the lens, and -- unlike the Dubai assassins -- tend to wear sunglasses and hats. Cameras break far too often. Even when they afford quick identification -- think of the footage of the 9/11 terrorists going through airport security, or the 7/7 London transport bombers just before the bombs exploded -- police are often able to identify those suspects even without the cameras. Cameras afford a false sense of security, encouraging laziness when we need police to be vigilant.

The solution isn't for police to watch the cameras more diligently. Unlike an officer walking the street, cameras only look in particular directions at particular locations. Criminals know this, and can easily adapt by moving their crimes to places not watched by a camera -- and there will always be such places. And while a police officer on the street can respond to a crime in progress, someone watching a CCTV screen can only dispatch an officer to arrive much later. By their very nature, cameras result in underused and misallocated police resources."

Click here to read the rest of the story.


Monday, March 8, 2010

20 years of Photoshop

Here's a cool retrospective by David Biedny at MacLife.com to continue the celebration of Photoshop's 20th birthday.


Saturday, March 6, 2010

Snow Leopard or Windows 7?

With Windows 7 64bit out in circulation, there's been a lot of conversations about the differences in user experiences between Snow Leopard and 7. Here's a great synopsis from Adobe's Dave Helmly:

"I will say that Windows 7 64 is has been a huge hit for editors. The biggest difference performance wise between Mac & Windows has been in the area of graphics cards. Apple does not really allow 3rd parties (nvidia/ATI) direct access to the OS for certain calls to the GPU - what does this mean? It means that they can't do a lot of tweaking of the video driver like they can on Windows. Nvidia and ATI release lots of driver enhancements for Windows each year. The difference it not huge, but is noticeable."


Friday, March 5, 2010

AAFS weighs in on NAS report

From the Seattle Times:

"Crime science tackles tainted image at Seattle meeting
The overriding issue at the American Academy of Forensic Sciences meeting in Seattle this week isn't likely to find its way into a "CSI" television script. In the wake of a blistering report on the nation's crime labs, forensic experts are trying to shore up the scientific credentials of many of their workhorse techniques.

A National Academy of Sciences (NAS) panel concluded last year that analysis of bite marks, blood spatters, handwriting and even fingerprints is not backed by the type of rigorous evidence that is standard in other scientific disciplines.

"The dominant message here ... is that the emperor really doesn't have all his clothes on," said Donald Kennedy, former president of Stanford University and an organizer of the NAS review.

Bohan said most forensic scientists have taken that message to heart.

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy established a forensic-science subcommittee, and legislation will be introduced in Congress next month to bolster research and oversight of crime labs. But Bohan is impatient for progress.

"Everybody is talking about what to do," he said.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) is beginning to fund fundamental research in several areas, including ballistics and fire-debris analysis, said Michael Sheppo, leader of the forensic sciences at DOJ's research arm."

Click here for the rest of the story.


Thursday, March 4, 2010

An alternative to HighPass?

This technique came up in a discussion on alternative methods and crazy ways of doing things in Photoshop. It's a HighPass alternative and quite a time saver.


Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Can you zoom in on that?

Here's a great clip that illustrates the future of forensic imaging (pun intended).


Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Details Matter: Correct Colours and PDF

There's an interesting post on the Adobe blogs that shows the results of not paying attention when viewing PDF documents with non-standard readers. "What does this all mean to you? Non-conforming viewers are introducing a risk factor to your workflows, and may not be displaying or printing what was originally intended, whether that is now or well into the future."

Read the entire post and download the samples for yourself by clicking here.


Monday, March 1, 2010

Legal news

There's been a lot of discussion about CCTV based evidence and the lack of clear case law. Today in Los Angeles Superior Court, an interesting discussion and decision (or non-decision) was made.

In People v. Otis Vann (BA3531183), the defendant believes that a privately owned CCTV system "witnessed" the crime for which he is charged and that the video will show that he is innocent. OK so far ... just go out and retrieve the evidence, right? Not so fast. The PC based DVR's software shows that the date in question is not on the system any more.

The defendant requested that the judge issue an order requiring the CCTV system be given over to the police agency's computer crimes unit for analysis and that they attempt to recover the lost data. The judge declined, citing a lack of compelling evidence that the data would be present or case law that would lead her to remove the privately held system from service for an indeterminate amount of time when the owner is not charged with the crime.

This is important to consider. The judge did not order the CCTV system seized, even though it may contain evidence.

This throws a large monkey wrench in the works of the "bag-it-and-tag-it" crowd. The owner of the system did not want to be without his equipment and did not believe that he should bear the cost of replacing it in order to help the police with their case. The police could not afford to lend the owner a replacement for his rather elaborate system (perfectly understandable given the current financial state of California).

What to do? We know what the judge did. What would you have done? What case law would you have cited? What say you?