Forensic Video Analysis Gets Client Released from Jail

How Did I Get Here?

Burglary Suspect Caught on Surveillance

Imagine sitting in a jail cell, wondering, “How in the world did I get here?” Up until now your worst offense has been being rolling through a stop sign or going too fast on the freeway. You know you didn’t do what the police claim; the question is, how to prove it?

That’s how it felt to be Billy.

It was not Billy’s first run in with police. In fact, he had earned the nickname “Billy Flee” in the small rural police department because whenever he saw a cop, he ran away on principle.

Recently, Billy was arrested for burglary. After viewing surveillance video from the victim’s home, a “witness” stated he recognized Billy as one of the suspects. Billy, however, claimed to have an alibi: he couldn’t have burglarized the home because he was busy buying drugs.

His habits are not to be admired, but at least he’s honest.

The case hinged on a forensic analysis of the surveillance video evidence. Was Billy in the surveillance video, or is this a case of mistaken identity and unjustified arrest?

Fortunately, Billy’s public defender had time to help him. The attorney sent video evidence and reports to be analyzed by a forensic video expert.

The evidence consisted of 6 videos and a still image from the home owner’s surveillance system. This still image was, according to the DA, Billy. Upon analyzing the evidence, the forensic expert discovered an inconsistency; the screenshot of the suspect was from a video not provided to the defense in discovery. In other words, a video was missing, having either been lost or withheld. Either way, someone dropped the ball.

When informed of the situation, Billy’s attorney immediately filed a motion with the court to compel the DA to turn over all video and still image evidence related to the case. The evidence turned over was astonishing: an additional nine videos, including the “missing” video. Now, one may think that this would clarify the case details, but you’d be wrong.

This new evidence included surveillance video from a separate burglary in the same home, and because there were no time stamps visible, it could not be determined which videos went to which robbery.

Ooops.

While motions and evidence were going back and forth, Billy was languishing in jail. But when the defense attorney confronted the DA on the confusing nature of these newly disclosed videos, the DA realized his evidence was flawed.

Billy was immediately released from jail, and the DA tried to save his case.

Here’s what the DA knew: somewhere between two and four people committed two burglaries in the same home on two different dates. What the DA did not know was the identity of any of the suspects or which suspect committed which burglary on which date. The result of this bungling of evidence was that within two weeks the DA dropped all charges against Billy and announced a nolle prosse (indicating he would not seek to prosecute him in the future for either burglary)!

Poor Billy sat indefinitely in jail even though the DA was unclear on the facts of the case. Once the DA was forced to take a closer look at the video and still image evidence, he realized he had to dismiss the charges. Had the defense attorney not had the evidence analyzed by an experienced forensic expert, Billy probably would have stayed in jail until trial. Or worse, the flawed evidence may have been used to convict him of a crime for which he was innocent.

Run on, Billy (just not from the police).

Posted in Criminal Trials Civil Trials Depositions and Hearings, Enhancement of audio and video | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Airplane captures high resolution video surveillance for 32 square miles over Baltimore

It’s called wide area, mass, persistent video surveillance. Is it a threat to privacy?

In 2016, police secretly tested a video surveillance airplane over Baltimore that captured super high resolution video over the entire city. It was stopped by public outcry due to privacy concerns. Now the Baltimore Police Department is trying again.

video surveillance

Ultra-high resolution video surveillance cameras can see much from the air.

The size of each frame is 192 million pixels, equivalent to 800 video cameras at once, covering a 32 square mile area. The resulting surveillance video is saved and can be reviewed backwards and forwards in time to track people and cars from a crime scene. For example, investigators can track a car involved in an incident to discover where it originated, with who else it interacted, and where it went.


The plane and camera technology was developed during the Iraq War and used successfully to track individuals who planted car bombs. The technology has been developed and improved over the years by the private company, Persistent Surveillance.

The 2016 test with the Baltimore Police Department was halted due to community concerns over privacy, but operator Persistent Surveillance acknowledges that it continued to record throughout 2017 over the skies in Baltimore. It used police scanners to hear about crimes, then zoomed to the location on its surveillance, tracked prior to and after the crime to find potential suspects, followed them on their recorded video as they traveled, and provided this video evidence for free to the police.

Now politicians and the Baltimore Police Department are trying to build community support for using the high tech eye in the sky.

Persistent Surveillance has been granted private funds totaling $1.6 million that would support them in Baltimore for a year, should it be approved.

The system has already been tested above the skies of Philadelphia, Compton, Baltimore, Indianapolis, Charlotte, and Nogales, Mexico.

Video surveillance cameras are everywhere already anyway, recording your every move, so what’s the big deal?

This technology works. It helps to track down criminals and leads to their arrest. In combination with police investigations, normal surveillance video, and forensic video and audio clarification, this will bring down crime.

When is surveillance video or audio legal? It depends on a “reasonable expectation of privacy”. When would an individual expect that no one should be watching him or her or listening to his or her conversation? If an individual would not reasonably expect they are being heard or seen, then a warrant is required to make that recording.

It is highly doubtful that people reasonably expect that their every move in the streets will be tracked in this way.

Jay Stanley from the ACLU is against this video surveillance. He told Bloomberg, “We could stop some crimes if we allowed the government to put cameras in our kitchens and bedrooms, but as a society we have decided that we’re not going to go there.”

If this moves forward, will only the police department in Baltimore have easy access to the video surveillance, or would the public also be able to have access? That remains to be seen, pun intended.

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Police Body Cams Do Not Decrease Use of Force

Police Body Cams Do Not Decrease Use of Force Force

Police Body Cams

Use of Police Body Cams Do Not Decrease Use of  Force

When body worn cameras were first being tested on police, many politicians, police chiefs, and citizens pushed this new technology as a great tool for curbing bad behavior. Studies (mostly by manufacturers of the technology) claimed that behavior on both sides of the camera drastically improved when officers wore video recorders. New evidence challenges these conclusions. According to the data, police body cams do not decrease use of force.

According to a 2 1/2 year study in Washington D.C. comparing officers who wore cameras to officers who did not, use of force saw no decline and the presence of a body worn camera made little to no difference in complaints by citizens. The study involved 2,224 D.C. officers — 1,035 without, 1,189 with police body cams — and started in June 2015. The results of this study are very similar to those of another that was conducted in 2016, read about that one here.

Why Use Police Body Cams?

A main goal of introducing police body cams was to bring transparency and a more urgent sense of responsibility to behavior — both by officers and to those they confront daily. As a step towards being accountable to the public, body worn evidence was expected to be the answer to it all. So even though officer worn video evidence has been of great use to the police department to analyze and understand use of force incidents, the goal to lessen such incidents has not been achieved.

Two interesting tidbits are that officers who wore body cameras reported their own use of force slightly more often than officers who didn’t wear body cams. Secondly, civilians lodged more complaints of excessive force against officers with cameras than those without one.

When police body cams were introduced into departments, officers and their unions were resistant. Over time, officers adjusted to wearing cameras until it is now business as usual.

Companies that offer video and audio forensic services are often approached to enhance, stabilize, clarify, analyze, and testify about police worn body camera video and audio evidence. Many in the forensic community believed from the onset of their use that although wearing police body cams would be resisted by officers, they would inevitably become standard wear, just like guns, badges, and those oh so cool officer sun glasses.

Influx of Evidence from Police Body Cams

Evidence for police shootings and other complex encounters have been improved because of audio and video recordings. In addition, video evidence serves as a valuable tool for training officers and gives the public a real life glimpse into an officer’s work and responsibility.

Posted in Advice for attorneys and police on recent surveillance issues, Enhancement of audio and video | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

When Toys Become a Threat to Privacy

When Toys Become a Threat to Privacy

Some newer toys are equipped with microphones, cameras, wifi, or bluetooth. Such technology in toys leads consumers to wonder what to do when toys become a threat to privacy.

It may seem unexpected, but technology in the toy industry has made it so that consumers have to question what to do when toys become a threat to privacy. Big and small companies around the globe continue to release toys full of electronics that respond to children, record audio conversations, video, and GPS data, and then these devices transmit these audio, video, and data files locally and through the internet using connections such as wifi or bluetooth.

In their rush to beat competitors to market, toy companies are ignoring basic security protocols and exposing their customers to dangerous privacy threats.

FBI Toy Warning

The FBI recently released an alert for parents to be concerned.

FBI issues urgent warning about ‘spy toys’ that could put ‘privacy and safety of children at risk’

Advanced systems and computer hackers can intercept these signals and surveillance to record them to their system, and then use that knowledge to steal information, rob locations, and harass and bribe families.

A most abysmal possible use of this, is that criminals could record the voice of a child, and then call the parent and use that recording to “prove” that they had kidnapped their child.

Oy, it’s a crazy world.

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Video and Audio Evidence In Court: How to Prevail In Civil and Criminal Cases by Properly Utilizing Audio, Video, and Still Image Evidence

I was so frustrated seeing attorneys make the same mistakes that I had to prepare this class.

It got embarrassing.  During opening statements, the opposing attorney made a claim about the video evidence that was out of the blue and, although Tony couldn’t put his finger on it, seemed to be misleading.

Tony was unprepared, and the opposing attorney took advantage. He misrepresented video evidence in open court, and Tony didn’t have the tools to object because he didn’t spend the time to understand specifics of his evidence.

Forensic Line Please Cross, sometimes attorneys resist careful analysis because it seems "the evidence is the evidence"

NCAVF welcomes attorneys to visit our offices with their video, audio, and still image evidence and to work with us in person.

Ever had this happen to you?

It is humiliating.

Your client might never realize what just happened, and at first, you might not realize it either, but later, when you go over your notes, preparing for a witness or closing argument, it might dawn on you.

You’ve been rolled.

Right in front of the jury. A boldfaced lie. And because you weren’t prepared, you didn’t object.

Unfortunately, I see it often — so often I had to put together this class.

Important details that affect your case, from the video frame rate to the file metadata to the resolution of your images and video. From understanding how microphone placement might affect the audio recording of a voice to how the camera angle and lens type could mislead a jury in regards to suspect size, actions, and height.

Avoid the #1 mistakes made in court with video, audio, and still image evidence.

Not only avoid humiliation, but force the other side to admit their attempted deception.

How powerful it is when you stand up in court — in front of the jury — and object with, “Your honor, the prosecution has misstated the evidence.”

And then to go back in chambers with the judge while you describe how the opposing attorney is misleading, and for the judge sustain your objection in front of the jury.

Good stuff, yes?

You will hear concrete advice. We’ve saved attorneys from a lot of headaches and humiliation; we could help you too.

Why are you providing this class for free?

Why am I willing to bankroll these classes, spending our time, resources, and energy to teach classes and not charge a penny?  Because it allows potential clients to see not only our technical skill set and history of successful cases, but also to see us in action, presenting to a group, just as we do in front of a jury. If you need us to testify as an expert witness, you will know that your expert is confident, knowledgeable, and persuasive on the witness stand.

I’m tired and frustrated with attorneys making mistakes that hurt their clients! Get us involved from the beginning, when you and I have the time to watch, listen, and focus on the evidence.

This class allows potential clients to see our skill with investigating digital evidence and presenting the results.

Two MCLE classes scheduled in Southern California for the beginning of 2018 are:
Tuesday, January 9, 2018, at 1:30pm we are scheduled to teach in Glendale at a firm specializing in insurance defense, and Tuesday, February 20, 2018, at 6pm we are scheduled to teach in Culver City at a Bar Association meeting. If you plan ahead, we can get you in to one of these classes as a guest of ours. Please contact us for the details.

David Notowitz is the owner and founder of NCAVF, the National Center for Audio and Video Forensics, a full-service audio, video, and still image forensics company based in Los Angeles and providing all levels of consulting, analysis, and media preparation for evidence used in arbitration, hearings, and court — from 3D recreations of crime scenes to video production, and from forensic video and audio enhancement to testifying in court as an expert witness. Millions of dollars has been saved — and won — and many lives have been altered — due to his company’s meticulous work.
Posted in Criminal Trials Civil Trials Depositions and Hearings, Enhancement of audio and video, MCLE classes | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Police Can Not Hide Tracking of License Plate Data

Police Can Not Hide Tracking of License Plate Data

Police Can Not Hide Tracking of License Plate Data Collected from ALPRs

The California Supreme Court ruled unanimously that police can not hide tracking of license plate data and must release to the public all the plate data they are collecting. According to the ruling, the state law does not generally exempt license plate data from public disclosure.
For many years, U.S. police departments have been using Automatic License Plate Readers (ALPR) with sophisticated surveillance cameras capable of automatically reading every visible license plate on all passing cars.

The license plate readers are important in helping locate stolen vehicles and tracking getaway cars of suspected criminals, but it can do more than that. Automatic License Plate Readers, or ALPRs, coupled with algorithms that can analyze these huge collections of data, enable police departments to hone in on hideouts of criminals by following their travel patterns and their associations with others over time.

For example, when an officer tells a computer to track a specific license plate, the computer will track OTHER license plates that pop up NEAR this main license plate number. If the nearby license plates show up more than once, the computer will alert the officer that this second license plate may be a “friend” of the main license plate.

Police Object

This powerful surveillance capability has caused concern from ordinary citizens. Police departments store this license plate and the location data for long periods. The tracking and storing of this information, without specific warrant approval from judges, could be a violation of the privacy of citizens. Organizations which requested data collected by ALPRs are the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Union, and several news organizations.

These organizations aim to raise awareness on how much information the police have collected on innocent civilians. While some authorities cooperated and shared these records, others balked at the request, such as the Los Angeles Police Department and the LA Sheriffs Department. One of the police departments that shared their collected data was the Oakland Police Department.

The L.A. Police and Sheriff departments initially won legal challenges at state trial and the appellate courts, wherein courts found that the data was protected by exemptions for police investigations inclusive to the California Public Records Act. However, the California Supreme Court now ruled that lower courts interpreted the exemption too broadly.

California Supreme Court Overrules Lower Court’s Decision

While the state high court ruled out the exemption, it still denied — for now — that organizations can access the raw data of the license plates. According to the California Supreme Court, the license plate data can only be accessed if the organizations work out with the trial court about how they can anonymize license plate information to avoid jeopardizing the privacy of citizens.
There are surely many police departments and authorities that will not be happy with the Supreme Court’s ruling.

According to California authorities which disagree with the California Supreme Court, their decision would make the ALPRs “virtually useless.” However, refusing public disclosure would harm the public’s right to know how authorities are doing their job, and it could hurt the ability for some to defend themselves in the situation when evidence from license plate readers was used to in their prosecution.

Posted in Advice for attorneys and police on recent surveillance issues, Enhancement of audio and video, In The News - Surveillance, Trials Depositions and Hearings | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Augmented Reality proof of concept allows audio recordings to visually float in 3D space

With all the audio analysis and enhancements that we do, I am often looking at audio waveforms and spectrograms. That’s one important way we explore, measure, and judge how audio filters are impacting the original audio.

Below are examples of how a voice is seen in today’s software on a waveform (the blue signal), and a spectrogram (in orange). Both are in stereo.

analyzing audio from a voice

Waveform analysis of spoken voice

Now, a revolutionary visualization of audio signals might soon help us with our forensic audio work.

Watch this amazing new test concept using the Apple ARKit (Augmented Reality Kit). The ARKit is software included with all iPhones and iPads.

This concept test allows the user to create audio that floats in space which the user can walk through to explore the sound signal.

With the proper programming, audio filters, and acceptance in the forensics community, I can see this being the future of audio enhancement, analysis, and editing for court situations.

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Create Your Own Video Evidence and Help Solve Crimes

Create Your Own Video Evidence and Help Solve Crimes

video evidence

Your video evidence may solve a crime.

Under normal circumstances, the police are responsible for finding video evidence, or any evidence for that matter, of a crime. The police will then process and analyze the video evidence to solve the crime and prove their case. But what if everyday citizens could have an opportunity to create video evidence that couil help solve crimes? This is more or less happening in Livermore, California.

As of 2015, the Livermore Police Department has created a database of privately owned surveillance systems so that they may determine who is in possession of potentially surveillance video systems that may have recorded useful video evidence of a crime. The police are requesting that anyone with surveillance register their system and its location with the department. If the police have reason to believe someone’s registered surveillance system may have recorded a crime, they will request temporary access to the owner’s surveillance system so that the video evidence may be extracted and analyzed by police.

Citizens On Patrol

For the police to access privately owned surveillance may increase video evidence for prosecuting criminals. However, police accessing private citizens’ surveillance may also be another step towards an invasion of privacy via 4th Amendment violations. So how is the public kept safe from police overstepping their bounds?

First, the Livermore police are not asking for permanent access or for a live stream of these private surveillance systems. Rather, the police plan to only access surveillance systems on an as-needed basis. Further, individuals who have registered their devices are under no obligation to give police access to their systems, even if police suspect a crime has been captured. Police promise to request access and only then recover pertinent video evidence.

If the Livermore Police Department’s surveillance program is successful, this may be a positive step in solving crimes faster and more efficiently. Advances in surveillance video cameras, data storage (such as cloud-based storage), and the internet have made it possible for the police to do more than what they’re attempting in Livermore, California.

Homemade Surveillance Video Evidence to Solve Crimes

Most new privately owned surveillance systems are designed to be accessed from anywhere in the world via the internet. In other words, if a user has a computer or smartphone with access to the internet, they can see a live stream from their surveillance, or they can access saved video evidence from their cameras. Advances in all this technology is such that multiple surveillance systems may be viewed from a single access point. For the police to do this would give them unprecedented access to live surveillance feeds, thus allowing them to catch crimes being committed in the act. Such efforts may be able to decrease response and investigation times, as well as help to prevent crimes from happening.

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Teaching an MCLE tomorrow in Fullerton area

We’re looking forward to teaching attorneys about the newest techniques in video, audio, and still image forensics. All examples and material taken from our actual cases.

I expect a great crowd tomorrow, so join us!
Here are the details!

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Why Snapchats Aren’t as Snappy As They Say

Why Snapchats Aren’t as Snappy As They Say

snapchat photo evidence

Snapchat hidden files may still be useful photo evidence

Photo evidence can often come from some very unexpected sources. Snapchat is still a highly popular app right now, especially among teens and preteens. If you are not a teen or preteen, you may need some explaining. Simply put, Snapchat is a picture-sending social media app; but what makes Snapchat different, however, is that the pictures (typically referred to as “Snapchats”) taken and sent via the Snapchat app will automatically self-destruct after a few seconds and are never seen again. Supposedly. (Unless someone screenshots them.)

What does that mean for you or a potential court case? With Snapchat’s popularity, it’s highly probable that Snapchat may become an important part of a court case. Depending on the nature of the case, the Snapchat generated photos -which have “disappeared”- may become valuable photo evidence. So then what about the photos that supposedly disappeared? Well, they don’t go away as quickly as people think.

For instance, did you know you can recover Snapchats from a phone, even after they’re deleted?

Snapchats Don’t Go Poof

snapchat photo evidenceThat’s right. Snapchats don’t completely disappear. As Richard Hickman explained to KSL.com, the pictures are just given the file extension “.NOMEDIA” by the Snapchat app, which makes them invisible to most normal phone users. Now, eventually, those files will be actually wiped from the phones storage in order to make more space, but they often hang around for quite a while, and what’s more is that those “disappeared” Snapchats can be recovered from a phone.

Snapchats Are Recoverable

If you were to Google “recover snapchat photos android”(or iPhone), you’ll find many articles or downloadable programs on the topic of recovering these hidden files. Recovering the pictures properly, however, will require a forensic expert who has the right programs and knows what they’re doing. This is especially true if the pictures may be used as evidence in a case.

The Point of Snapchats Photo Evidence in Criminal Cases

snapchat photo evidenceBut why should anyone care about old Snapchat photos? Well, these Snapchats could be material evidence in a case. Cases such as a child pornography case, a family law case or child custody case, or even a civil case such as a slip and fall / personal injury case. The relevant point is that most people don’t think of Snapchats as hanging around, since the app automatically deletes the images. So someone who used Snapchat to capture evidence, but then assumed that evidence is safely deleted are probably not as likely to think they need to go back and erase that evidence. Having a forensic expert recover that hidden evidence, however, could work to your case’s advantage.

NCAVF and David Notowitz attended a photo evidence forensic symposium and heard forensic expert Joseph L. White, MS speak about a case of a man who tried to claim his Snapchats didn’t contain underage nudity. (Which can be found in the AAFS reference library.) The suspect in this case assumed he was safe as the Snapchat images had been “deleted”. A recovery of these images, however, revealed that they did in fact contain underage nudity, which was discovered through the use of forensic video analysis and software. These recovered images were then used as material evidence in the case.

Conclusion

When dealing with a case that involves images that may have been taken with a cell phone, it’s important to be aware that Snapchat may have been used to capture images. And even if Snapchat deleted these images, it might mean there is still hidden evidence buried on the phone’s storage. Therefore, don’t dismay if you need a Snapchat back. It is frequently possible to recover Snapchats from a phone to use in a case. All you’ll need is a little bit of digging, and a forensic video specialist, to bring them back from the grave.

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