What Should Your Image and Video Forensics Expert Know?

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What Should Your Image and Video Forensics Expert Know?

Video Forensics expert

Suppose you have a case that has quite a bit of video evidence or still image evidence. You know it needs to be looked through. Or you know that an image or two will be pivotal depending on what you find out from them. The prudent thing to do would be to decide that you need a video forensics expert. But you’ve never hired one. What should an attorney be looking for in a video forensics expert?

According to the Scientific Working Group: Imaging Technology’s (SWGIT) “Best Practices for Forensic Video Analysis,” a video forensics expert should do the following:

Understand what the work entails within the forensic environment

Basically, your video forensics expert needs to know his job. He can’t just be some programmer who knows a bit about file structure. Or a video editor doing forensics on the side. He should know what needs to be done in the context of a forensic environment.

Know the subject

If you’re going to hire someone, make sure he has knowledge about your particular problem. Has he worked cases with surveillance videos before? Does he understand about violent crime? Make sure he understands the case you’re handling. Make sure your forensics expert also understands the defense or prosecution strategy you’re going to use to prove your case (or disprove the other side’s case) so that he knows the aspects of evidence to look for as he works on the video enhancement.

Know the right video and image forensic techniques

Of course, the expert may need programming, software, and video expertise as well. They shouldn’t just be a glorified private eye using internet tutorials.

Know Forensic GVideo Forensics expert best practicesuidelines (SWGDE)

There are several organizations that recommend various forensic guidelines that may be followed when evaluating or enhancing evidence. The Scientific Working Group on Digital Evidence (SWGDE) is one such group. SWGDE publishes forensic guidelines that are studied and observed by many forensic experts. SWGDE is one of many organizations that contribute to a variety of standards in acceptable forensics techniques and practices for video forensics.

Understand the “legal precedent for the use of specific image and/or video processing techniques”

Your video forensics person should know the lay of the legal land; otherwise, they might make mistakes that would keep crucial evidence out of court.

Understand and use “appropriate casework documentation”

For a similar reason, your forensics person should know how to keep correct documentation. These are just several of the guidelines given. You can find more here. Basically, you just want to make sure that the person you hire is careful, precise, and knows their stuff.

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Can You Spot All the Fakes? Images, That Is

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Can You Spot All the Fakes? Images, That Is

Video Forensics
Not sure whether a key image or video in your case is faked or original? Photoshopped images and video have become a big problem, as editing programs get more sophisticated and easier to use. Just a couple of clicks in Photoshop and you can make almost anything disappear. But what if your case has a lot of images that you can’t tell are false or real. Can you sort through lots of photos for fakes?

Right Now

Nowadays, you can get programs that will at least attempt to tell you if a picture has been altered. Some programs track compression values. Each time an image gets saved, it often gets compressed. But if part of a file is changed, that part won’t have been compressed as many times as the rest. This page explains further.

But this method of analysis might not work on a really good Photoshop job. And the process, therefore, still requires human examination.

In a case such as this, you would definitely want to hire an image and video forensics professional to use their sharp eyes.

Future Developments

Video forensics fake images

But what if you have a ton of pictures and video to go through? What then? There’s not much you can do now, except go through every picture individually, which could take forever. But people are working on a way to fix this problem.

Under a program funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (for $4.4 million), researchers from the U.S as well as Brazil and Italy are trying to invent a machine-learning algorithm to help. This algorithm will hopefully be able to sift through loads of images and video forensic data and comb out the false from the real.

How could that help with your court cases? Well, hopefully, once this software is developed, it can be applied to all sorts of areas. It could be used to analyze all the images on someone’s computer or on a public Facebook account for evidence in a case.

Maybe someday this software will come to a video forensics specialist near you. But for now, you’ll just have to rely on their human eyes.

Referenced from: U.S. Eyes Tools to Spot Faked Images, Video

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Judge’s Shocking Ruling on Hidden Audio Surveillance

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Wiretapping circa a long time ago

Judge’s Shocking Ruling on Hidden Audio Surveillance 

The NCAVF article titled “FBI Plants Audio Surveillance Outside Courthouse“ was originally posted on 05/12/2016. This is an update to that article based on current events and the judge’s ruling on evidence and the use of audio surveillance devices in the case. Please click the above link to read the original article.

US v. Joseph J. Giraudo, et al.

After hearing arguments from both sides, U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer found that federal investigators had “utterly failed to justify” their warrantless use of recording devices. In his 19 page decision, Judge Breyer wrote, “Even putting aside the sensitive nature of the location here, defendants have established that they believed their conversations were private and that they took reasonable steps to thwart eavesdroppers.”

The judge’s decision could set a significant precedent in regards to the use of hidden audio surveillance devices. According to Judge Breyer, even though a conversation is being held in public, where bystanders not party to the conversation may hear, none the less, the conversation is (at least in this case) considered private. Therefore, in order for these recordings to be used as evidence in this case, the FBI should have obtained a warrant.

At almost the same time Breyer was hearing arguments on the San Mateo case, U.S. District Chief Judge Phyllis Hamilton heard an almost identical case involving audio recordings that were also secretly recorded by the FBI, also without warrants, also right outside courthouses, and also involving real estate investors whom the FBI believed were bid rigging. This case originated just across the bay, in Alameda and Contra Costa counties, but Judge Hamilton ruled completely differently that Judge Breyer.

US v. Michael Marr, et al.

In her case, Judge Hamilton ruled that the audio evidence would be admissible. In her decision, Hamilton stated, “Having listened to the recordings at issue, the court finds that defendants did not take steps to protect the privacy of the conversations that were audibly recorded.”

Just like in Breyer’s case, attorneys for the defendants (in Hamilton’s case) argued that despite being outdoors, clients frequently have private conversations with their attorneys. Judge Hamilton, however, dismissed this argument, stating, “It has been the court’s observation that conversations near the courthouse entrance are frequently overheard by unintended and unseen listeners, even from inside the courthouse.” Hamilton, therefore ruled there was no expectation of privacy.

Have Your Cake and Hide it Too

Despite siding with the prosecution in ruling the audio recordings admissible, Judge Hamilton, none the less, also indicated, “it is at the very least unsettling that the government would plant listening devices on the courthouse steps.” hamilton’s statements are concerning. On the one hand, Hamilton says the recordings are fine, but on the other hand she admonishes the FBI agents for planting audio surveillance devices outside a courthouse.

In her decision, Judge Hamilton pointed out that part of the reason she ruled in favor of the prosecution is because the defendants , “…did not take steps to protect conversations.” Even in public, most people assume that a conversation between two people is considered private. That a nearby bystander is listening is irrelevant because that bystander is not a party to the conversation. The judge, however, seems to feel different, as her ruling reflected.

audio surveillance

The first device that was wiretapped

Same But Not Equal

There is a very stark and dramatic difference of opinion in these almost two identical cases: Judge Breyer ruled the evidence out by saying the conversations were clearly private; Judge Hamilton ruled the recordings in by saying the conversation were clearly not private. Yet in both cases, microphones were hidden in public areas just outside courthouses. This difference of opinion between two federal judges touches on an interesting idea: are wiretapping laws outdated? A wiretap may be defined as, “ the monitoring of telephone and Internet conversations by a third party, often by covert means.” This would include setting up a hidden audio surveillance device such as a microphone outside a courthouse. The word “wiretap” comes from the 1890’s when the actual phone’s wire was “tapped” by plugging into it so it could be listed to or recorded by the third party. This language shows just how outdated these laws may be since so much of today’s “wiretapping” is done wirelessly.

Need for New Laws Regarding Audio Surveillance

Both of these cases, however, seem to address a subject that affects everyone (not just these defendants). Recently, the government has been placing microphones and recording conversations on city buses, trains, and other locations, seemingly without the consent of riders. Activities like this would appear to be a clear violation of our 4th Amendment rights. So what may be the future of wiretapping laws? When the authors of these wiretapping laws first created them, they did not foresee today’s smartphones, button cameras, and microscopic digital recorders. Is it time to reconsider what constitutes wiretapping in the 21st century?

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Can You Use a Selfie to Find Out a Kid’s Age?

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Can You Use a Selfie to Find Out a Kid’s Age?

Forensic Image Analysis

Selfies can be used to identify age of adolescents

Did you know you can accurately guess the age of a child from the diameter of their pupils? Pupil diameter seems to increase pretty predictably as a child grows, unlike other features of the face, according to Neeka Parker’s assessment of pertinent studies in her paper “Age Estimation of Adolescents Using Eye Measurements from Various Angles in Videos.”

Did you also know that kid’s love selfies? I probably don’t have to tell you that a selfie is a picture a person takes of him or herself. Because of this, the selfie is often at a unique angle from other pictures. Selfies, though, are almost epidemic, especially among younger people and millennials. (Over 55% of millennials say they’ve taken a selfie.) Forensic analysis of selfies as regards to a young person’s age could be an important part of a legal case.

But can you figure out a child’s age from their pupils in a selfie? In her study, Neeka Parker wanted to find out what selfie angles and cellphone pictures did to the angle of an adolescent face and to how well you could see their pupils.

Participants

With permission from their parents, Parker gathered twenty-one children from ages eleven to nineteen, twelve girls and nine boys, some African-American and some Caucasian, with one Mayan. Most of these children had brown eyes, which will be important later.

Variables

With these participants gathered, Parker had to deal with some variables in the way eyes change. Pupils can be affected by lighting, medication, or even just a person’s mood. Parker asked her participants questions about their mood and medication so she could account for those variables. And, of course, she made sure the lighting was controlled.

Process

Parker took pictures with an iPad and a Nikon D3100 camera and video with the Nikon. She took reference pictures and then had the participants take selfies, which were analyzed in Photoshop.

Conclusion

Selfie Forensics
In the end, Parker found that since most of her participants had brown eyes, generally she could only distinguish the pupil on the Nikon images but not the iPad images or the Nikon video stills. This made further analysis and measurements difficult. Note that the pupil diameter is the most important part of judging a child’s age by their face and that brown is the most common eye color.

Thoughts

Although Parker did compare her device, the iPad, to other smartphones and concluded that camera hasn’t improved, at least in the iPhone, it would have been useful if Parker had included more imaging devices, including actual cellphones in her study. In my experience, a teenager would rather be caught dead than using something clunky like a tablet or iPad to take pictures. Selfies are the domain of the smartphone, which is light and convenient to use when taking pictures with your arm stretched awkwardly.

What does this mean for determining children’s age in the forensic image analysis of selfies? Parker says more research needs to be done. But right now it looks like whether your selfie is useful depends on what device it was taken with. She also pointed out it’s possible other ways besides pupil diameter may be needed to judge age in a selfie. But as phone cameras get better and better, it’ll get easier to figure out a child’s age and tons of other useful information, from the humble selfie.

Want to know more about forensic image analysis of selfies? You can read Parker’s research paper here.

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How Forensic Video Analysis Changed History

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How Forensic Video Analysis Changed History

forensic video analysis

Forensic Video Analysis can be used to solve mysteries of the past.

Forensics is not always limited to drama in courts or television in the forensic video enhancement and analysis world. What’s another use for forensic video analysis? Recently, forensic video expert Michael Plaxton of Crystal Beach, Ontario, got to change history. Plaxton used forensic video analysis techniques to reveal the truth behind evidence from World War II and therefore correct a mistake that’s over 70 years old.

Although Plaxton primarily works with the Hamilton police in Ontario, Canada, he also sometimes dabbles in private consultations on the side. According to the Hamilton Spectator, Plaxton was contacted by a Lucky 8 TV in New York because they were making a documentary about the second world war.

From the Halls of Montezuma…

Plaxton gained notoriety in forensics as a video forensics expert in helping to solve the case of the murder of Tim Bosma in Canada. (Bosma was murdered in 2013 by two people that came to see a truck he was selling through an online ad.) Plaxton’s work in the murder case was a major contributor to the conviction of the two suspects accused of Bosma’s murder. But when Lucky 8 TV contacted Plaxton, they didn’t want him to help with any criminal case, or not even a civil case for that matter. Lucky 8 TV wanted Plaxton to analyze the famous photo, Raising of the Flag on Iwo Jima (see below). As it turns out, forensic video analysis can even be useful in unraveling the details of events from history from over 7 decades (and several wars) ago!

Remember the men in this iconic photo?

forensic video analysis

U.S. Marines of the 28th Regiment, 5th Division, raise the American flag atop Mt. Suribachi, Iwo Jima, on Feb. 23, 1945 during World War II. (AP Photo/Joe Rosenthal, File)

Most people probably don’t know these men’s names. But for many years, the U.S. military thought that they were Ira Hayes, Franklin Sousley, Michael Strank, John Bradley, Rene Gagnon, and Harlon Block, from left to right. The military had already misidentified one of the men before. Turns out, the military was wrong again.

Although this case wasn’t about forensic video enhancement, per se, the case instead utilized modern forensic video analysis techniques. Analyzing frame by frame, Plaxton compared multiple sources of video and image footage (evidence) from when this photo was taken with the photo itself. He analyzed the equipment the men in the photo had been wearing earlier, reasoning that because of the fighting earlier the men in the photo would have unique differences in their equipment.

What Plaxton found by analyzing the videos and images is what revealed the facts of the case. According to the National Post, the equipment that ended up telling a new story were a broken strap on a helmet, a rifle sling with an odd swivel, a bulging right pocket, and a strip around one of the Marine’s neck.

The Conclusion

From the tiny details of the Marine’s equipment discovered by analyzing the historical videos and photographs, not only did Plaxton discover that one man, Franklin Sousley (second man from the left, foreground), was actually John Bradley, but he also found that John Bradley wasn’t even in the photo. The man who everyone had thought was John Bradley was in fact a man named Harold Schultz (third man from the left, foreground).

Forensic Video Analysis

By scrutinizing all the photographic and video evidence, it was determined that John Bradley had helped raise a flag earlier in the day, but he hadn’t been there for the iconic photo, seen above, which took place at a second flag raising later in the day.

This case is not only a great example of another use for forensic video analysis, but it’s also a great example of how the science of forensic video analysis isn’t just about forensic video enhancement. A good video forensic expert is also a detective with sharp eyes, a quick brain and a tenacious willingness to scrutinize every single frame of a video.

For more information on this case and the flag raising, watch the Smithsonian Channel’s The Unknown Flag Raiser of Iwo Jima, which debuted July 3rd, 2016.

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Surveillance Video Evidence Captures Intruder

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Surveillance Video Evidence Captures Intruder

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Home Surveillance Captures Video Evidence of Pint-Sized Intruder

Safety is a major concern these days. Everywhere, folks are concerned about their personal safety from an attack, their business’s safety from theft or damage or even their home’s safety from burglary or intrusion. Video surveillance is an affordable and convenient first step in helping to establish a layer of protection. So when someone’s video surveillance is successful in capturing an intruder, what should one do with the video evidence? One home invasion “victim” invited the perpetrator over to visit again any time.

Intruder Caught on Surveillance Camera

Recently in Louisiana, a homeowner was reviewing the surveillance footage from her home’s security system when she noticed something both strange and unexpected: an intruder had entered her garage. This, however, was not a dangerous felon looking for an easy “score”, or worse. The intruder was a little boy. The pint-sized burglar ran into the garage, hugged the homeowner’s dog (attention that the dog seemed to thoroughly enjoy), and ran away before being caught. It turns out, however, that he was caught, caught by the owner’s surveillance system.

A Harsh Sentence

Typically, the whole point of a home surveillance system is to prevent break-ins, by acting as a deterrent, and to create video evidence of the intrusion in order to catch and convict the offender. In this case, the homeowner took decisive action: she wanted to invite the intruder over! She, however, was unsure the identity of the boy. The young prowler wore a baseball cap and avoided looking at the camera, thus protecting his face and identity! Typically, a video forensic expert could be utilized to enhance the video to try and discern the identity of the invader. In this case, however, it seems that the homeowner did not consider her intruder a threat and instead wanted him to know he was welcome to play with their dog any time.

In place of using video enhancement techniques, the homeowner turned to a slightly lower-tech method of identification: social media. While posting a copy of the surveillance video evidence on Youtube, the homeowner made known that she would like to find the identity of the trespasser. Her goal was not to get the young burglar in trouble, but rather to let him know he was invited to come play with her dog any time. After over a million views, she learned that the boy was indeed her next door neighbor. The boy’s family had a dog that passed away the previous year and he was in need of some four-legged affection. The boy’s family plans on getting a new pooch soon, but in the meantime, he now has regular play dates with the neighbor dog.

 

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Traffic Collision and the Vanishing Video Evidence

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Traffic Collision and the Vanishing Video Evidence

video Evidence

Video Evidence Related to a Garbage Truck Traffic Collision. Who’s to blame?

From where does a case’s video evidence come? About eighteen months ago, a traffic collision left a local resident badly injured. The victim is now suing a garbage-truck driver and the driver’s employer for his injuries, lost wages, pain and suffering, etc. Although happening while dark out, at around 5am, a nearby business’ surveillance camera captured most of the accident. In conducting an investigation into the degree of responsibility the garbage truck driver had in causing the accident, all video evidence must be collected and evaluated, and video enhancement is often an extremely useful tool in helping to determine what happened.

In this article, we will explore not only how a forensic video expert may prepare and use evidence to help attorneys prepare for their cases, but we will also look at various methods and places to search for video evidence that attorneys often overlook.

In the above mentioned case, the forensic video expert hired to review and enhance the evidence was tasked with making several determinations regarding the actions of the garbage truck and driver. 1) Where was the truck positioned in relation to the building and road, 2) Did the driver make a left turn into the building parking lot (after the accident), or 3) Did the truck driver leave the accident scene, without picking up the garbage? What made making the above determinations difficult was that although the video evidence did show the accident, the garbage truck becomes obscured by headlights as more and more cars enter the camera’s view.

Where’s the (Additional) Video Evidence?

The first thing any attorney should know about their case’s evidence is that surveillance cameras are everywhere. Furthermore, there is other related evidence, such as measurements and information about nearby buildings and the surrounding environment, that could be crucial to answering important questions about the case or for creating a 3D Reconstruction of the accident scene. Although an attorney may be given one or two videos of an incident, one should not assume that this is the only video evidence pertaining to the case. It is very likely that a nearby building also may have cameras that captured some or all of the incident. Such cameras are easily overlooked by police, investigators, or even insurance investigators.

The forensic video expert working the above accident case went to the accident scene to attempt to recover other video evidence, as well as to take measurements. However, the expert was very surprised to find the building had been leveled six months prior, leaving only an empty dirt field. The lesson here: an attorney should not wait years or even months to have a forensic expert go to the scene. As soon as an attorney is given a case, they should assume there’s a very tight deadline to recover video evidence and have a forensic expert begin immediately.

As a result of the missing building, further forensic analysis had to be completed using only the surviving surveillance video and pictures from Google Earth.

A similar case was recently worked where forensic experts were asked to recover surveillance video of a DUI stop from a private establishment near the stop. The defense attorney claimed the DUI stop was unlawful, based on an erroneous traffic violation, and therefore it should be thrown out. Surveillance video would have shown that the driver did not commit the traffic violation as the officer claimed. However, because the defense waited 4 months before contacting their forensic video expert and requesting video from that surveillance system, the surveillance video that would have shown the traffic stop was automatically deleted by the surveillance system. It is typical that a surveillance system’s DVR will only save footage for a matter of days or weeks before automatically being deleted, unless the surveillance footage is locked or exported.

Case Solved

After completing a forensic video enhancement of the existing video evidence from the garbage truck accident, forensic experts found that the garbage truck driver did not make the left turn, thus failing to pickup the garbage as he claimed in an earlier deposition.

Analysis and enhancement of the surveillance video showed that several cars were in the lane next to the truck blocking the truck’s ability to make a left turn into the building’s parking lot. By disproving several claims made by the garbage truck driver, a more accurate degree of culpability was able to be placed on the driver and his company.

In summary, it is imperative that attorneys expedite the process of collecting video evidence and taking measurements on scene. Surveillance systems will not keep video evidence indefinitely and will typically begin automatically deleting evidence after a very short amount of time. Sometimes there is more evidence available than provided by either the opposing side or any of the involved parties. Nearby buildings, businesses, or even government owned fixtures (such as city light poles or traffic lights) may have cameras offering additional footage of the incident. Finally, be sure to have a forensic video expert evaluate all video evidence and perform a video enhancement to help you understand your evidence and uncover exactly what happened. The more detail attorneys can show a jury, the better results they can get for their case.

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Study on Use of Force and Police Body Cameras

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Study on Use of Force and Police Body Cameras

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TASER International’s AXON flex™ On-Officer Police Body Cameras with Controller, wearable Camera on Oakley® Flak Jacket Glasses

A new study has been looking into whether or not the use of police worn body cameras has any effect on police use of force against suspects. Conversely, the study also explored whether or not the police use of the cameras effects assaults against police. The results are fascinating.

In short, the study found that officers who kept their body cameras running all day showed a decrease in use of force incidents. Officers’ who turned their cameras on and off during their shift at their discretion showed an increase in use of force incidents. But perhaps most surprisingly, the study showed that police who wore body cameras–whether they were switched on or off– where 15% more likely to be attacked and or assaulted while in the line of duty! Read the entire article here.

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FBI Uses Audio Surveillance Devices Outside Courthouse

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FBI Plants Audio Surveillance Outside Courthouse

audio surveillance

What happens when the FBI plants audio surveillance devices without a warrant?

The use of an audio surveillance device, such as a hidden microphone or wiretap (aka a “bug”) is typically limited to law enforcement who have procured a warrant. For an agent of the government to secretly record a conversation without a warrant is typically considered a violation of one’s 4th Amendment protection. Recently, several FBI agents are finding themselves in hot water for planting audio surveillance devices in at least three locations around the entrance of the San Mateo County courthouse, without any warrant or judicial approval. In a case such as this, it crucial to understand several concepts: 1) what are the laws related to usage of audio surveillance devices by police, 2) can these recordings be used in court (since they were essentially obtained unlawfully), and 3) what techniques might an audio forensic expert use to prepare audio evidence created by such an audio surveillance device for court or other proceedings?

What Did the FBI Do that Was So Wrong?

Back in 2009 and 2010, the FBI planted several audio surveillance devices. One of the devices was planted in a metal sprinkler box attached to a wall near the courthouse entrance, the second in a large planter box to the right of the courthouse entrance, and a third device near the vehicles parked on the street in front of the courthouse entrance. The purported goal of the FBI was to record several real estate investors whom they believed were bid rigging and colluding to deflate prices at public foreclosure auctions. The listening devices were activated by agents an hour before the auctions on at least 31 occasions between December 22, 2009 and September 15, 2010. FBI agents then would switch off the devices after some time when the auctions were concluded. The auctions were held on the courthouse steps. The defense lawyers in this case were asking the U.S. District judge to throw out more than 200 hours of recorded conversations by FBI agents.

During the proceedings, Senior District Judge Charles R. Breyer expressed what he described as a gut level discomfort with the notion of government agents listening at the courthouse door. The judge said, “Let’s say I was out of that courthouse that day, I used the staff entrance and I turned my [sic] law clerk. I wouldn’t know [about that recording], would I, unless the government turned it over?”

Judge Breyer said that the targets of the investigation— the real estate investors—likely believed that their side conversations at the public auctions were private. Whether or not that expectation of privacy was reasonable, he added, would determine whether the 200 plus hours of recordings, and all evidence arising from them, would be suppressed.

The real estate investor’s defense attorneys, at Latham & Watkins, argued that the FBI does not have a right to use audio surveillance devices without appropriate warrants and that their clients had a reasonable expectation of privacy, even though the conversations were held in public places. To support this position, their attorney argued precedence from many well known cases related to the issue.

Case Law on the 4th Amendment and Audio Surveillance

In Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 351-52 (1967), the seminal case on modern Fourth Amendment interpretation, the Supreme Court affirmed the right of individuals to be free from warrantless government eavesdropping in places accessible to the public. Speaking in a public place does not mean that the individual has no reasonable expectation of privacy (eg. a public telephone booth). In Wesley v. WISN Division-Hearst Corp., 806 F. Supp. 812, 814 (E.D. Wis. 1992) the court stated, “[W]e do not have to assume that as soon as we leave our homes we enter an Orwellian world of ubiquitous hidden microphones.” Therefore, a private communication in a public place qualifies as a protected “oral communication” under Title III of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968, 18 U.S.C. § 2510 et seq. (“Title III”), and therefore may not be intercepted without judicial authorization (eg. a warrant).

Did the FBI Need a Warrant?

David J. War, the attorney representing the U.S. Department of Justice, argued that the defendants participated in a conspiracy to rig bids and commit mail fraud at public real estate foreclosure auctions in the San Francisco Bay Area. He argued that little about these auctions was private: they were attended by dozens of people. They were held in an open and public area outside of the rear, employee-only entrance to a county building that housed a courthouse and sheriff’s offices. They were conducted near a closed-circuit surveillance camera that was conspicuously placed above that entrance. And they were adjacent to a curbside that was marked as designated for law-enforcement vehicles. County employees, uniformed law enforcement, and any and all bidders who wished to attend the auctions regularly used the space where these auctions were held and where the defendants’ conversations and activities were recorded. Under these circumstances, War argued, the defendants’ cannot establish that they had a reasonable expectation of privacy, thus, their conversations and activities were exposed for the public to hear and see and are therefore not protected by the Fourth Amendment or Title III.

Little Girls and Their iPhones

Arguments for whether or not the audio evidence may be used in court were heard in April 2016. The judge has yet to make a ruling. It is unclear, therefore, whether or not the evidence will be allowed. Historically, there have been times when unlawfully obtained audio recordings have been admitted as permitted evidence. In a recent custody dispute coming out of a Los Angeles Family Court, the children in question secretly recorded conversations with their father using an iPhone as an audio surveillance device. Despite such a recording being considered wiretapping, and therefore unlawfully obtained, the judge still admitted the recordings and considered them as evidence in making a custody decision. The major difference here, however, is that the children were not acting as agents of the government (i.e. police). Therefore even though the recordings were unlawfully obtained, there is no 4th Amendment violation.

A case such as the Family Law example illustrates that even though evidence was unlawfully obtained, there are circumstances where the evidence may be admissible in court. But just because these iPhone recordings may be used in court, the people making the recordings may have opened themselves up to civil litigation, fines, penalties, or even imprisonment.

If the FBI is successful in getting their audio recordings admitted into evidence, it may be necessary for an audio forensic expert to enhance aspects of the recording to better understand what is being said. For instance, since the recordings were made outside, there may be noises such as cars or wind that interfere. Various enhancement techniques could be used to reduce such interference. Presumably there were also other people talking that had nothing to do with the case. It may be necessary to isolate and eliminate unrelated conversations, where possible. Likewise, the defense may also desire to enhance aspects of the audio in order to create a forensic transcript which may become vital in refuting claims made by the prosecution.

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The 5th Amendment and Digital Evidence

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The 5th Amendment and Digital Evidence

Digital Evidence

Can the government compel someone to decrypt their own hard drive if the digital evidence may be self incriminating?

A former Pennsylvania police officer has spent the last 7 months in jail for refusing to decrypt his own hard drives. The prosecution believes the hard drives may have unlawful images stored on them. The court, therefore, ordered the former officer to decrypt the hard drives, which he refused. The defendant claimed that by decrypting the hard drives, he’s essentially testifying against himself, which he’s protected from doing by the 5th Amendment.

The outcome of this case may become case law in regards to whether or not a court may compel someone to decrypt or unlock their own encrypted digital evidence, such as a hard drive or iPhone. In the case mentioned above, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) claims, “Compelled decryption is inherently testimonial because it compels a suspect to use the contents of their mind to translate unintelligible evidence into a form that can be used against them.” Therefore, the EFF claims, one should not be compelled to decrypt his own digital evidence.

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