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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Cars – The New Mobile Surveillance Units

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Cars – The New Mobile Surveillance Units

audio forensic services

Tech within a car could be collected (or even hacked) and used in court by utilizing audio forensic services to process, evaluate, or enhance the evidence.

One may not think it, but modern cars have found a practical, albeit unexpected, use within the field of audio forensic services. There are numerous technologies powering the telematic and infotainment services of automobiles. Technologies like on-board vehicle electronics, global positioning system (GPS) satellite communications, short-range and wide-range wireless telecommunications systems, data analytics, cloud computing and the internet are just few of the technologies that are combined using permutations and combinations to empower the ultra automatic automobiles that we use today. Some of these communication devices, such as GM’s “OnStar”, even have the potential of being accessed by the government. What’s more, every movement and location the vehicle makes could be tracked and catalogued by the government.

In this post we will discuss the various components and technological elements that are used to power the telematic and entertainment modes of our cars. In turn this will help us better understand the privacy implications of connected cars and the sources from where we can gather important data and evidence for audio forensic services, and how this evidence may be used in court. First we’ll explore some of the technology behind vehicle telematic systems, then we’ll discuss how these components could potentially be used in court, could be used against the vehicle operator, or could be utilized by audio forensic services.

Cars and Audio Forensic Services

There are many components in a car that use modern computing power. Sensors are used to measure various activities and components within the vehicle. The computer within each modern vehicle, therefore, processes many million lines of code in order to make the vehicle operate exactly as the car makers wanted. The communication network that allows these sensors and components to function together is referred to as a bus, which controls functions such as engine temperature, engine RPM, throttle position, vehicle speed and orientation, distance travelled, fuel levels and consumption, door open/close, tire pressure, ignition, headlights/tail-lights, battery status, cumulative idling, odometer, trip distance, braking activity, and much more. The data these sensors compile is available directly to the car makers via the OBD port. Utilizing wireless connectivity, this data can be transferred to servers where it can be further processed and used. It is possible, therefore, that a car’s functions can be accessed (or hacked) by an outside entity which can then compile the data or even hijack some of the vehicle’s functions.

Telematics Control Units

Telematics Control Units (TCU’s) use GPS receivers and wireless interface modules that allow two way communication outside the vehicle.  They control functions such as remote vehicle diagnostics, remote operations like start, stop, door lock, door unlock and alerts, automatic crash notifications, emergency calling, vehicle locating and monitoring and geo-fencing. Cars like the new Hyundai Elantra can even be started via a voice command to smartphone or smartwatch. This means, however, there is the potential for an outside entity, such as the government or hackers, to access this function without the owners knowledge or control.

Telematics Operations Centre

Telematics Operations Centre is network hub that communicates with Telematics Control Units and other information sources and delivers telematic services back to the vehicle, the end user or the application provider. It performs various functions such as network security, fault management, configuration and customer relationship management.

Call Center

The call center provides voice assistance to vehicle occupants in real time. Customer service representatives can access customer and vehicle information from the Telematics Operations Centre. An example of this would be GM’s OnStar, which is a service that utilizes microphones installed within the vehicle. The government, therefore, could activate the microphones without the knowledge or consent of the vehicle’s owner or operator and secretly record conversations. These recorded conversations could then be used as evidence in a case. If necessary, they could be enhanced using audio forensic services for use in court.

Service and Content Providers

Most technology manufacturing companies use third party sources such as Pandora and Spotify to provide content or entertainment services. Such entertainment services use the Telematics Operations Center to reach the dashboard.

Aftermarket Telematic Systems

Aftermarket systems use devices generally attached to OBD-II port rather than using units built inside the vehicle dashboard to connect to the internet. They rely on mobile devices or a separate interface that is mounted on the dashboard.  

Wireless Communication Technologies

Various wireless technologies such as Personal Area Network systems using Bluetooth or Wireless USB devices, Dedicated Short Range Communication and Cellular communications are used to convert cars into moving internet hotspots. They are used to link products such as Mojio, Dash, public safety-related Intelligent Transportation Systems, Operations Centre and internet streamed radio and video applications. Because such devices connect to the internet, they also have the potential to be accessed or hacked by a third party such as the government. Once hacked, the government may be able to gain access to the vehicle operator’s phone and phone history, driving history, internet usage, etc.

Cloud Computing and Data Analytics

With an ever-growing amount of vehicles on road, large quantities of data is being created by all these vehicle’s computers and components. Cloud computing is used to store these large amounts of data and provide sophisticated processing abilities. The cloud also stores the various apps we use in our cars. Using data analytics, meaningful patterns and conclusions are drawn, which are further analyzed from the vast data base collected.

Intelligent Transportation Systems

Intelligent Transportation Systems use a lot of representative data coming in from various sources such as vehicles, roadside infrastructure, pedestrians, cyclists or other physical things on the roadway, connected through wireless communication. Mobile sensors like GPS, radar, laser, video, lights, thermals and fixed sensors like traffic counters, cameras and weather instruments are used together with Dedicated Short Range Wireless Communication. All this data is processed and made available in real time to the parties or components that need it (such as traffic regulating processes).

Our Cars May Be Used Against Us

The Hyundai Elantra mentioned above is a very high-tech and sophisticated piece of technology. It represents that cars are no longer simply to get us from Point a to Point B. Cars are now complex computers processing millions of pieces of information every minute they are on the road. Many of these processes are vulnerable, however. They can often be hacked or simply accessed by the government, the manufacturer, or by someone else who may have nefarious intentions. Although some of the data is harmless and benign, it is concerning to imagine that the government could access a car’s microphone and listen in to a private conversation (not unlike what they can do with smartphones). If they record this data or these conversations, however, this audio evidence could then be used in court. Once the evidence has been collected, it may be invaluable to audio forensic services to process, evaluate, or enhance the evidence so that it may be used effectively in your case.

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How Camera Lens Effects Forensic Video Enhancement

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How a Camera Lens Effects Forensic Video Enhancement

Forensic Video Enhancement

The type, style, and quality of lens used by a digital camera will effect the quality of the still images or videos it records as well as the forensic video enhancement technique utilized

A camera lens, like the one pictured above, actually consists of many lenses. The lens affects the quality of a still image by controlling the amount of light that reaches the image sensor. Other characteristics, of a camera, that affects the image quality are field of view, iris, f-number (or f-stop), focusing, mounts and lens quality. Knowledge of types and characteristics of camera lens is of great importance during forensic video analysis and forensic still image analysis. Using forensic video enhancement, different techniques can be applied on low quality images or videos to highlight important elements of the video evidence or still image evidence, which could not be captured due to many factors (such as inferior lens quality, mis-calibrated equipment, poor lighting conditions, etc.). In this post we will discuss the important characteristics of a camera lens that can affect the quality of still images or videos.

Three main types of lenses are:

  1. Fixed lens,
  2. Varifocal lens and
  3. Zoom lens.

Fixed lens: In fixed lens, focal length is fixed and only one field of view is available. In other words, a fixed lens is not capable of zooming in or out. Most surveillance cameras today have fixed lenses, which makes forensic video enhancement crucial for clarifying the facts and details of a case.

Varifocal lens: A varifocal lens has different focal lengths and thus different fields of view are available (ie. it can zoom in and out, albeit typically minimally). However the field of view should be changed manually. Focal lengths in the range of 3 to 8 millimeters are available in varifocal lens for network or surveillance cameras.

Zoom lens: A zoom lens also offers different field of views. However in a zoom lens, refocusing the lens is not required to create a change in the field of view in a specified range. If lens adjustments are required, it can be either done manually or motorized.

Field of View (Focal Length)

Focal length is the distance between the entry lens and the image sensor, or the point where all light rays converge. Focal length and size of the image sensor together determine a camera’s field of view. If the focal length of a lens is short, the field of view will be wide. The typical size of image sensors are 1/4, 1/3, 1/2, and 2/3 inch. Telephoto lenses have a focal length of more than 70 mm and are used to capture objects that are very far off or smaller in size. It is good for long distances and has less geometrically distorted images. The disadvantage to this type of lens, however, is that they sense less light. If less light gets in the lens, the image may be not as bright or clear.

Wide angle lenses have a focal length of less than 35 mm. They are used when a wide field of view is required. The advantages typically are good depth of field and better low light performance. The disadvantages of using a wide angle lens are increased geometrical distortion and bad long distance viewing.

Aperture or Iris Diameter

The Aperture diameter, or iris, determines the amount of light that passes to the image sensor. A bigger iris will result in more light passing on to the image sensor. Another factor that determines the amount of light reaching the image sensor is exposure time. Low light conditions will require a bigger iris and longer exposure time. Whereas a brighter environment requires a smaller iris and less exposure time. To capture quality images optimum light should pass to the image sensor. Getting the correct amount of light to the aperture is key for too much light will result in overexposure and too little light will result in dark images. Therefore shutters and adjusters are used to control the exposure time and iris respectively.

Depth of Field

Depth of field is the distance in front and beyond the point of focus, where objects simultaneously appear to be sharp. The Focal length, Iris diameter and distance from the camera to the object together determine the depth of field. Longer focal length will mean shorter depth of field and similarly wider Iris diameter will also result in shorter depth of field. Understanding the depth of field is often very important when evaluating surveillance video in order to determine the best forensic video enhancement techniques to use.

Determining an optimum setting to achieve an ideal depth of field is complicated, but all modern digital cameras will do this automatically. However, depending on the lighting conditions, the following setting is recommended to achieve an ideal depth of field and higher quality of images:

Sunshine or lots of light: In such situations, use a small iris opening and shorter exposure time to achieve better quality images and higher depth of field.

Overcast or cloudy sky: For obtaining better quality images of moving objects in overcast lighting conditions, reduce the exposure time. This will result in reducing the depth of field. On the other hand if you increase the exposure time, blurring of moving objects will increase. However if capturing moving objects is not the end goal, then increasing the exposure time will improve the depth of field and overall quality of the images.

Evening and night: In low light situations, increase the light sensitivity of image sensors. However this will increase the noise in images.

Different recording conditions, as mentioned above, will result in different types or qualities of video. A forensic video expert will take all of this into account while evaluating and analyzing a video to determine the best forensic video enhancement techniques to use on the evidence.

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