In today’s world, we are inundated with technology that captures our everyday moments. Whether it’s a joyous event, a critical life situation or a criminal activity, these moments are captured by various digital recording devices, including cell phones, CCTV, security cameras, body-worn and dash cams. With the influx of digital, physical, biological and forensic evidence the justice community is challenged to manage, organize, access and secure the evidence while maintaining CJIS compliance requirements and chain of custody.
Listen in as two ImageSoft digital evidence veterans, Vince Hanson and Terry Chaudhuri discuss how the justice community can take a new direction, while thinking about protection to ensure their digital evidence management isn’t an old-fashioned notion.
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Welcome to the paperless productivity podcast. Where we have experts give you the insights, know-how and resources to help you transform your workplace from paper to digital, while making your work life better at the same time.
Thanks for joining me today. My name is Steve Dale, your host for today’s podcast. When we last discussed the topic of digital evidence with Vince Hanson and Terry Chaudhuri back in 2019, we touched on how video can present a huge challenge in the context of court evidence, how technology can help improve access for all members of the justice community and the keys to managing multimedia evidence playback. Two years later, these challenges and an influx of content still exists in the justice community and digital evidence continues to be a hot topic.
In today’s episode, we’ll take a deeper dive into why digital evidence continues to be a hot topic these days, how courts are dealing with the influx of multiple video file format, the types of digital evidence content commonly captured and security protocols to consider.
Joining me today are Vince Hanson and Terry Chaudhuri of ImageSoft, they have been on the front lines of digital evidence for quite some time now. Welcome Terry and Vince.
Thanks, Steve. Appreciate you having us.
Yep. Thanks Steve.
Thanks to you guys as well. So obviously digital evidence isn’t new, but why is it becoming more of a hot topic these days?
Yeah, I think you know, technology advances are probably the key driver for why this is becoming a hotter and hotter topic. I think, you know, more so than ever we’re surrounded with technology which makes capturing this information so easy for every single person. And you know, when I think about a few examples, you know, the first that comes to mind is really people in their cell phones, right? The ability for all of us to capture video with pressing two buttons on our cell phones, you know, I have the ability to capture a beautiful memory with my family. But I can also capture some critical situations which happens during my everyday life that can involve me, or it could involve you know, other people. And you know, it, it reminds me of a situation I found myself in about five or six years ago was actually a Sunday, driving to church with my family, about 10 minutes from my home. And, and I came around a sharp corner. And on the opposite side of the road, suddenly something caught my eye. And lo and behold, there’s a minivan upside down in the middle of the road wheels are up in the air, there still spinning. And all I can think of is, oh my God, this accident just happened and there may be people in the car. Right. So, you know, I immediately stopped my car, tell my wife to call 9 1 1. I sprint across the street to try to, you know, help anyone that’s trapped or injured.
And, and what is the first thing that I started seeing when other people came up and you, you guessed it, right? It’s people stopping just like me and several of them pulling out their cell phones to record every single step, movement and thing that happened at that event. And, you know, after a few minutes law enforcement, paramedics arrived. As soon as the sheriff showed up there was additional video that that, that started being captured via their body cameras, via their dash cameras in their vehicles.
And mind you, this accident I’m describing it happened, you know, a great deal of time ago, right? When you’re talking about technology and you’re saying five or six years ago. Today, I think there’s a growing segment of normal people like you and I who are now installing their own personal dash cameras in their vehicles so that there’s no dispute on who might be at fault if there’s an accident, if there is an act of vandalism or a theft occurs. So, you know that that’s definitely one of the main examples that pops into my mind.
I think another great example though, again, from, you know, just our personal lives is our homes, right? Like I think if you don’t have a
Ring doorbell or a Nest camera system of some sort installed in your home you’re probably gonna be outside of the new normal of what people do from a technology perspective. We have recordings from Alexa inside of our houses. Heck I think I’ve seen more flying drones and drone footage being used by individuals and businesses than, than ever before. And so, you know, when you have all of these new devices capturing content it causes a lot of, a lot of questions and a lot of challenges, right?
The devices are capturing video in high definition. Now you start asking questions about, well, how are we going to actually manage the content? How are we going to organize it? How much space do I need? What is the storage going to cost me? How do I keep it secure? How do I, and other people get access to it? And, you know, it’s, it’s video, right? A lot of times these files are huge. And of course, you know, we are real time society, right? People want that content. They want it now and they really don’t have the patience to wait. So, I think all of these factors are really kind of you know, driving what is happening in the space right now.
Thanks Vince. So how are people dealing with this influx of content?
Yeah, it’s a, it’s a rather daunting task. And no clear solution where there are just tons and tons of best practices that have been in place for years for people to understand. How to solve these problems. Most people are looking at the cloud and third-party vendors to bring solutions to the table.
They’re looking for something that is portal based where there are an easy method to upload content that can make it easy for them to receive files and actually look at the content that has been sent over. Of course. Uploading that content through a website or an end-user portal is just a part of the challenge, right? Like once it’s received, there are requirements for confidentiality. There, they could be associated to a case that’s sealed. There could be a public case and they need to have all of those things kind of taken into account and, and manage correctly. There are also big questions for IT, right?
They want virus protection, malware protection so that their environments aren’t getting infected cyber security seems to be a huge issue right now. And you know, the CIO’s and agencies that I’ve spoken with are very concerned about locking down their environments, locking down data and making sure that things are very, are very safe and secure.
You also have the storage space requirements, as I mentioned before, but also understanding what the retention requirements are. Again, folks haven’t been managing processes like this for video for years and years. So, it’s breaking new ground for a lot of agencies that we’re talking to. And, you know, again, it needs to be very simple and easy to expand and change those storage requirements. There needs to be an easy way to purge the content that’s no longer needed from a records management perspective. And, you know, lastly my, my favorite is probably usability. I think all of us because of streaming services like YouTube or Netflix, most of us have forgotten how difficult downloading a huge video and the time it would take to get access to the content used to be for all of us.
Most of the content has to be encoded in a way that doesn’t alter the video or the frames and allows it to be streamed to end-users. So that they can have immediate viewing of that content, but also allow them to navigate maybe fast-forward to a part of the video very easily for any party that may be a part of or working on that case.
Much of this is, is, is really being outsourced to vendors from a hosting perspective. Those vendors have to have a lot of focus on, you know, redundancy of the data, disaster recovery, 24 by 7 availability, help desk operations for troubleshooting. And having the correct technology and security in place to ensure everything is protected at the highest level of standards. And, and again, managing that key security for the for the agency.
That’s great information, thanks. Terry, can you elaborate on what type of security protocols should be considered?
Sure. So, there’s, you know, various certifications out there in the industry today, and they’re not specific to digital evidence. You know, they cover a wide range of areas, you know, from HIPAA guidelines and Phipps to, to CJIS compliance, which is, you know, kind of different criteria and security requirements, you know, from the FBI about exchanging of criminal case data. So that would all be applicable to digital evidence when you’re talking about, you know, court cases and things in the criminal space. But even more specifically, you know, security really covers, you know, the encryption, the storage of that, the protection of that data and how we authenticate the different identity providers out there to, to prove who somebody is before we allow them to access in.
And then there’s all the different networking and database aspects that have to be monitored as well. And just as tons of security protocols that need to be in place just for, you know, threat protection. You know, we have all this stuff when you’re talking about a cloud, there’s a lot of additional monitoring and protections that need to be done from the system as a whole. And, and not only at the system level, but you really do need to look at the individual file protection. You know, we often call the chain of custody of the file. So, we really got to keep a detailed audit trail of every single piece of evidence in the system, regardless of, of how it was obtained. It still needs to be tracked and be able to meet her made available upon request.
So, Terry, you mentioned chain of custody, and I hear this term quite a bit. Can you give us a high level of what this is and why it’s so important?
Sure? So, the chain of custody really is, you know, kind of that audit trail of everything that’s happened. So, it’s so important that we know everything that’s touched this file. So even from just who uploaded it? Who’s been accessing it? Hasn’t been downloaded? Has it been emailed? All of those different things that go along with managing a file need to be tracked and more important, we need to prove that the file was not altered, and nothing was changed on that file. So, we’re always going to need a way to validate who accessed the file and that it was not modified in any way. So having a detailed report of this and being able to produce that report upon demand is going to be very important. So, when people are using you know, network folders and things like that, you really don’t have that audit trail capability. And you’re going to lose some of that valuable information.
Some other aspects people look to is it’s being able to generate things like, like a hash, which is, you know, using a mathematical algorithm to, to generate a unique value for the file based on the makeup of, of all the different parts of that file. And that could be a large video. And then that’s important because I may need to run this, this algorithm, you know, a year or two years from now and generate the exact same hash to prove that that that file was not altered. When you get into video, there’s so many different frames and things within a file. We need to have that that integrity in place to know that we are dealing with the file that was originally submitted and nothing changed because that can drastically change how that information is evaluated and used.
So, in regard to video, we often hear about people having issues with a proprietary video format and being able to store and play those. Since there’s so many video file formats out there, how are people dealing with it?
Yeah, most people today really, they don’t have a great handle on it. They really try to get ahold of the specialty player that’s needed and have people submit that with files. And then they have an addition to the files I need; I have to store this player and then they’ll have trouble installing it and playing that on their system. So often now they’ll try to look to it tools out there that, that have all the different video codecs in there. And a codec is really just kind of the software and then instructions on how to play a video in there.
So, if you think about the old modem concept in your house, a codec is the same thing, but for the video side of things, where it compresses and decompresses, that file. And you can actually play it and make it viewable to, to a person. So having a system and software out there that can, has all the different codecs that are known in the industry that can play these proprietary files without needing a specialty player is going to be a huge advantage. So now you’re not hunting around for the player. And even if you do get the player there and somebody, you know, installed on their machine. It’s probably an executable file. And most people have their machines locked down when you’re in a corporate environment or an court environment, and they’re not going to be able to install it. So now I have to go and get IT support to help get this installed so that I can play that. And as you can imagine, the delay in something like that, as Vince was talking about, you know, it must be accessible. It must be quick. And if we’re in a courtroom and we need to play this, you know, or bring it to the jury room and play it there, we need it to play right away. We can’t wait hours or days to get this, you know, the right technology installed so it can be played.
So again, understanding what’s out there and tools that can, that can play this stuff automatically is going to be very important. And with the playback, if you do have the right tools that can play the file, they can also do a conversion to a standard MP4 type format. And an MP4 is really just a wrapper on a video file so it doesn’t alter the original file, but it just puts more instruction around it so that players understand how to play that file. So if you can convert that to an MP4, now I can really just play the file on a standard windows media player, or some other VLC or free downloaded video player and I don’t need that proprietary player that came with it. And I don’t even need the technology that I used to play the file in the first place, because I now have it converted into what we would consider an industry standard format.
So, Vince, we’ve focused a lot so far on videos, but besides just traditional videos, what types of content are people seeing as digital evidence?
Yeah. Great, great question, Steve. I think there are so many types of evidence outside of video that are equally as important to the case. Right? So first physical evidence is still a thing. Biological evidence, right? Blood stains, DNA, fingerprints, tire marks, footprints, et cetera. Many times, there’s digital evidence it needs to track both including physical evidence and manage that same important chain of custody that Terry was just talking about. You then have documents like PDFs or scanned images. Think of a traditional police or incident report that may need to be represented as a part of the case. You’ve got email messages, right? Again, people have thousands and thousands of emails just sitting in their inboxes and because of cell phones, you’ve got lots and lots of digital photos. Hundreds of photos could be taken of a crime scene or lots of photos that could be taken off of a traditional, traditional camera or cell phone device. You then have audio recordings, 9 1 1 calls, voicemails, witness statements, courtroom recordings. There could be extremely large folder structures. Think about folders and files from a, a laptop or a computer. Someone’s browsing history off of that device. It could be a lots and lots of files related to that. You then have cell phone extracts digital forensic teams may copy an entire cell phone for analysis. And that’s going to include you know, a log of phone calls, text messages, photographs, videos, apps that are being used. There can also then be GPS information and reports. Just lots and lots of information that kind of falls into this evidence bucket that needs to have an open architecture to manage all of this information as a part of the as a part of the case.
Gosh, it sounds like there is a lot to consider when dealing with digital evidence. This discussion was definitely informative and surely those in our justice community can benefit from today’s discussion.
Vince, Terry, thank you guys so much for joining me today. For our listeners stay tuned for a future podcast doing a deeper dive into the topic of digital evidence. In the meantime, if you’d like to learn more about ImageSoft or our digital evidence management solutions, please visit imagesoftinc.com/courts/digital-evidence-management.
This concludes today’s podcast. Thank you. And have a great day.
Thanks again for joining us on this podcast. To learn more about Image Soft, please visit imagesoftinc.com that’s ImageSoftI-N-C.com. If you haven’t already done so, be sure to subscribe to Paperless Productivity, where we tackle some of the biggest paper-based pain points facing organizations today. We’ll see you next time.