Allowing the Public to decide on the Video Evidence

I thought I would write this here as I have a feeling that I may need to repeat it a few times over various locations and it will save me re-typing.

For many years now I have seen the increase in evidential screen-snaps. This is where an image is being used in evidence that is a photograph of a screen showing an event or image. This is usually a CCTV image.
Whats with all the screen snaps?

Just to clarify – This is not relating to the urgent screen snaps that are obtained in the valuable first few hours of an investigation, where the publics assistance is needed to identify a dangerous suspect. What I am referring to is the ‘easy option’ of grabbing the screen snap, rather than obtaining the evidence in the correct manner.
Why this happens is another post in itself, but it’s mainly due to the complete lack of understanding by the security industry with regards to how surveillance video is used……and this is compounded by the fact that Law Enforcement is ridiculously under funded and they don’t have enough people to deal with the video evidence and deal with it correctly.

At this point then I want to take you back around 12-13 years, where I was highlighting some of these issues at a pretty high level in the UK. As a result, a Proof Of Concept project was funded to identify how we could link and acquire CCTV evidence using remote access, to speed up video evidence acquisition. This would not only avoid poor screen snaps by officers and incorrect evidence obtained from owners not understanding what was required, but also avoid CCTV retrieval officers from travelling to the locations.
Here is the important bit! – We were not going to wait for it to be delivered to us…. we would be the ones recovering it.
Rather than CCTV owners making the evidence decisions, it would be us. They would give us access, that access was recorded and there was a full data trail for monitoring and transparency.

It was a success, and this was even with all the various firefalls and restrictions of police networks. I could recover evidence remotely, with a full evidencable trail.

A few years later this was worked on again but unfortunately this was at a time where funding had completely dried up. It was again shelved.

I now read that the UK Police are developing a repository to accept video evidence from the public..
https://www.policeoracle.com/news/police_it_and_technology/2020/Nov/24/-single-online-home-could-accept-video-evidence-by-next-year-_106264.html

They appear to be handing the job of evidence recovery to the public. This is, in my opinion, wrong.

Video evidence is easily changed, misinterpreted, misused and misunderstood. The moment it is changed, its integrity and authenticity is reduced. The original pixels, those small little squares of light and color that make up the image, are the evidence. Most CCTV owners don’t know what’s the best evidence, and what they should give to the police.

Let me give you an example….

A CCTV System records its video. The owner accesses the system using his mobile device and saves the video on his device, where he then forwards it to an investigator. It looks OK from the untrained eye.

The received video is dramatically different from the original, with much less data, half the pixels, changes to the field of view and also the timing/speed.

Video Evidence is already an easy target but Defence lawyers will be lining up if we allow evidence recovery to be done by people who don’t know what they are doing.

They appear to be choosing the easy option. Do they do this with any other physical evidence?

I hope that the people involved in this reach out to the few Certified Forensic Video Analysts and Technicians in the UK and ask to be shown what the problem is here.

I can see the job having to be done twice – An owner submits footage, and then someone has to check it and go out and attempt to get it correctly. If its been deleted or lost then what happens? Can decisions be made on a reduced quality format, or has its ability to answer questions been reduced because it was not obtained correctly? ..and if nobody checks it and an attempt to get the best evidence is not made – is that a breach of process?

Lets do it right first time. Is that not the most simplest option?

By Spreadys Posted in EEPIP

UK Forensic Science Regulator – FVA Code Review

The UKs Forensic Science Regulator will shortly be conducting an update to the Video Analysis Appendix to the Forensic Science Providers Codes of Practice and Conduct.

All members of the Forensic Image Analysis Division have been asked to submit comments in support of this update.

The current document can be downloaded here:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/video-analysis-codes-of-practice-for-forensic-service-providers

If readers of this blog wish to comment through me, I will collate and send through as one.

Please be concise and specific.

Remember that images and video have to to pass through a forensic architecture to ensure integrity and reliability in any judicial process. This is our chance to ensure that the codes support this, eliminating the two tier image/video pathway currently being utilized within the UK Criminal Justice System. When there are no safeguards in place, images and video can get into the System that are incorrectly acquired, processed, interpreted and presented.

Use the comments section below so others do not duplicate issues.

Thanks

By Spreadys Posted in EEPIP

An Open Format

OK, lets get this out of the way at the start and then work backwards!

What is an ‘Open Format’?

“An open format is a file format for storing digital data, defined by a published specification usually maintained by a standards organization, and which can be used and implemented by anyone. … In contrast to open formats, closed formats are considered trade secrets”

Wikipedia

Things get a bit more tricky for the multimedia community as formats are merely the boxes that contain the audio, video and other data such as text, date/time or speed information.

The video and audio components will be coded using a codec, allowing for the correct decoding of the information during playback. Think of it as a language. If its been written in Italian, it needs to be read or listened to in the same language!

There are hundreds, if not thousands of codecs. There are also open codecs.

Now that we have an understanding of the term ‘open’, let us look at what this means to the average Forensic Video Analyst having to deal with surveillance footage from a CCTV system.

They are a small cog in the public safety and justice system. The start point for their workflow starts with the products provided by the security industry.

Cam2Court

This is known as the Camera to Court evidence chain for CCTV.

If any of the components leading up to the Analysis are ‘closed’ or ‘proprietary’ then we hit a problem……..And, just to make matters a bit more complicated, every manufacturer can do it differently, so there are thousands of unknowns!

To be honest, it’s one of the enjoyable parts of my job, everything starts out as research and testing…but it shouldn’t be that way as we should all playing for the same team!

I honestly think that some kit has been made purely to frustrate the hell out of any investigator required to deal with the footage!

There are a few manufacturers that still use completely closed recording methods, codecs and players. There is no method to analyze and understand the original recording method and deal with it quickly and effectively within a forensic framework.

There are many manufacturers that have closed components. They may use an open format, and an open video codec, but they then use a closed audio codec, and a proprietary method for storing the date and time text information.

There are many manufacturers that use open codecs, but then store the data in a closed, proprietary format.

There are many manufacturers that use open codecs and open formats….but then ruin it all by providing a player that distorts and changes the footage when played!

Many years ago, I was lucky to work alongside those writing the National CCTV Strategy under the then ACPO lead for CCTV, Mt Graeme Gerrard. Some of the unfinished components of this should have been picked up by the Security Camera Commissioner (SCC), and the Forensic Science Regulator.

One of those Components was the establishment of standards for storing and exporting.

In the most recent update from the standards group from the SCC, there is still no sign of anything happening.

Perhaps it is in the new Surveillance Camera Commissioner’s Buyers Toolkit.

Or is it still stuck in the ‘too hard to do box’?

If so, can someone please take out!

It’s a pretty simple problem to solve…

Manufacturers will not make stuff that people won’t buy.

Buyers will purchase the products that that fit their needs.

In the middle is the shop, the installer, or the consultant…. Lets use the term now being used by the SCC – The ‘Service Provider’.

If we can empower the Service Providers with better knowledge, to ensure that only those products with open formats, offering transparency and understanding throughout the Camera to Court model are sold or installed, then the entire system will improve.

And then what happens? – the evidence gets obtained faster and is of a higher quality.

Take a look at one of the tests I completed at IFSEC back in 2014..

DVR Test

These problems are just a handful of the issues we have to deal with, but could so easily be eradicated if only the service providers understood what was needed further down the chain.

Now… I know that ‘some’ do. I actually work with a few consultants and am very aware that they take the Criminal Justice System into account when specifying equipment. They would not install a XXXXXXX DVR for instance because they know that it records in a closed format.

Open! – Documented, transparent and open.

Not proprietary, non-standard and closed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Spreadys Posted in EEPIP

Happy Birthday to Amped Software

Big day today…. It’s Amped Software’s 10th Birthday!

When I look back to 2008, and my life within Forensic Video Analysis, things were a little different.

I had started my path to becoming a Certified Forensic Video Analyst and was learning the various techniques and skills required for me to provide the best video evidence.

I was working within an environment linked with cellphone and computer examinations. One thing that I liked about these forms of investigation, was that there were various dedicated applications to assist them.

The advantage those investigators had, was that they were starting with standardized start points. They had standard operating systems and formats.

With video, and specifically CCTV, we did not, and many formats were being analysed for the first time. Even when we did have a known format, each case and frame changes, so each process needs to change depending on the question being asked.

As a result, I may have needed to utilize multiple different pieces of software. If you look back to some of my early blog posts on analysing CCTV, I may have been using (and not limited to)….

  • Virtualdub
  • Defraser
  • Gspot
  • FFmpeg
  • Jpegsnoop
  • Forevid
  • HXD
  • Photoshop
  • Edius

……and not on separate cases…………On the same File!!!!

I was after the single solution to do everything I needed.

As I was unable to move beyond the programming language of Batch files, and as such could not write my own software, I built Spreadys Software Pack. This made my life a lot easier (and many other people’s apparently), by putting everything together in one place.

The problem though was that I was spending a lot of time moving between applications and validating each process… and then having to deal with the different ways each program was dealing with this non-standard video.

As my experience grew, I was observing more changes and inconsistencies. I needed that single solution more now….

I then came across this fast growing company… called Amped Software.

They had developed FIVE – Forensic Image and Video Enhancement

…..and everytime I went back and checked them out – they had made updates, and then brought out new software for Image Authentication.

Towards the end of my career in Policing, I had started to trial FIVE and was using it with every case. I couldn’t use if for the official case work but found that it could have saved me hours everyday, in decision making, processing, analysis and presentation.

I could never understand the reluctance to purchase due to price, when staff’s time is the most expensive component in any investigative role.

…..and the rest, as they say is history!

Upon leaving the police service I was lucky to have choices…. And, if I’m honest, it was a tough time.

As many of you now know – I took on the role of International Trainer at Amped Software. My decision was based all the way back to my early days in needing a single solution for my workflow.

FIVE was fast becoming that solution… and I felt that I could help in getting some of the other components included.

So…. Here we are 10 years down the line….

Multiple applications, huge development… and much more to come.

To Martino, the CEO of Amped Software (and the guy that sends me to train officers and staff worldwide)…

Congratulations! You had idea’s and the skills to put those ideas into software. Most importantly though, you listened to users worldwide in what they needed… and then put those idea’s and requests into the software.

And this is the true power of Amped… it is not just Martino, or the huge team around the world…. It is the users…. You will not find another group of developers, more willing to listen and learn from users, to make the application that you need to make your life easier!

…and to the rest of the team, Well done! It is an honour to work alongside a group of people dedicated to the same goal.

It’s not the final destination – It’s the journey!

 

By Spreadys Posted in EEPIP

The Investigator Workshop

On the 7th December 2017 I will be presenting a workshop on Images and Video use within investigations.

Image 2

The Image above is a link to the full flyer….

The Investigator magazine regularly run workshops on many techniques and services. I am very much looking forward to demystifying some of the technicalities of CCTV, Video and Images.

It is primarily based at those people making the decisions, but open to all frontline investigators who will benefit from having an increased knowledge of what is, and what is not, possible within the world of visual multimedia.

For more information,

+44 (0)844 660 8707 or email

info@the-investigator.co.uk

By Spreadys Posted in EEPIP