The Evolution of Mobile Video and What It Could Mean for Video Forensics

mobile video forensicsOver the past few years, we’ve seen a significant acceleration in the development and manufacture of consumer-grade, mobile video devices. From smartphones to GoPros, video recording has become substantially less expensive and far more accessible to consumers. In turn, this may change digital evidence as we know it.

Mobile Video Evidence in Mississippi

The mobile video revolution now allows us to capture video of events as they occur. This phenomenon has created powerful repercussions in the courtroom. Thanks to the availability of video devices and trends in social media, we now have presented at trial video evidence of events that, until recently, have rarely been made known.

For example, take this video of a woman from Mississippi. As she begins to merge onto the highway, a truck hits her car, causing it to catch fire. She and her children appear trapped as the flames grow in size.

Suddenly, a truck driver approaches from behind the scene of the accident. He pulls the family from the burning car just before it explodes. Had the truck driver appeared a few minutes later, it is likely that the entire family would have been killed.

This is a heroic, inspiring story. An inspiring story that would have gone completely unnoticed if weren’t for the rescuer’s dash camera recording the entire incident. This heroic act became a huge story and would have gone unrecognized by the public without the mobile video technology of this generation.

Mobile Video Evidence in Ferguson 

However, the documentation of heroic stories like this is only the beginning. The spread of mobile video devices to every pocket, purse, and vehicle has widespread positive effects. This public video revolution can also make or break a court case, providing the crucial evidence that makes true justice possible.

For this, let’s use the currently infamous video, Officer Go-F***-Yourself. The officer in Ferguson appeared at a peaceful protest late one night in August. He approached a group of young adult protesters with an assault weapon drawn. He pointed it at them and he told them that if they did not return to their homes, he would “f***ing kill them”.

In the world of law enforcement, this kind of behavior on the part of an officer is absolutely improper and illegal. The protest was peaceful. The young adults weren’t causing any harm or exhibiting disorderly behavior. Even if they were, threatening protesters in such a crude manor is clearly unacceptable in a free society.

Had this happened 10 years ago, it might have gone completely unnoticed. The officer in question may have gotten away with blatantly making death threats to civilians. Not to mention, the only evidence from the protesters would’ve turned into a game of he said, she said. However, because one of the protesters was smart enough to take out their cell phone and document the entire confrontation, the officer was suspended. The Ferguson Police Department saw the events exactly as they transpired and his guilt was indisputable. This, in itself, is revolutionary, and is an indication of how much power mobile video evidence can have in the courtroom.

The Power of Mobile Video evidence in Court

A clear representation of events is the most indisputable evidence available. It allows the jury, officials, and lawyers to witness events with their own eyes and ears. Other forms of evidence can be easily disputed, but allowing the court to experience the event for themselves is the most effective method of presenting evidence. It is even more reliable than an eyewitness account.

Consider the most powerful documentaries you’ve ever seen. What do they all have in common? Generally, they all rely on the reality of the situation by allowing viewers to experience it for themselves. You can throw out as many facts and statistics as you want, but experiencing actual issues and circumstances is what will stick with people most. The feeling viewers derive from seeing the faces and hearing the people speak is incomparable to any statistic in the world. This is why Charlie LeDuff’s piece on Ferguson is one of the most powerful, yet. It doesn’t focus on the narrative or the stats. It focuses on those who are so passionate about this cause that they would fight, risk arrest, or even die for it.

In sum, the mobile video revolution is critical to the justice system. The best way to reap its benefits is to remain aware of its power. If you experience anything unlawful, always remember that the device in your pocket could make or break the fate of those guilty. These devices allow us to capture indisputable evidence about what truly took place and it is a privilege we can’t ignore. Above all, these developments could completely change the face of digital forensic evidence forever.

5 Tips for Preparing Digital Video Evidence for Court

evidence - court

Video evidence is the most accurate representation of the events as they naturally occurred. In fact, surveillance videos today are more accurate than eye witness testimony alone. Once surveillance video has been properly authenticated and the source of the chain of custody has been presented, they are ready for court. In the following blog post, 5 Tips for Preparing Digital Video Evidence for Court, video forensic expert will teach its readers about the 5 major lessons our experts have learned and want to share with you about preparing your surveillance videos for use in court.

5 Tips for preparing digital video evidence for court

Tip #1: Chain of Custody

Chain of custody is perhaps the most important tip from this post. Document and maintain a chain of custody on your video evidence. A lack of an authentic chain of custody can cause the court to question the integrity of the surveillance videos and its admissibility. Lack of a proper chain of custody reduces the credibility of your video evidence.

For example, I currently have a case in house that includes a smart phone recording being used as video evidence. We preserved the video recordings on the smart phone. Why? It is crucial to our investigation. There is plenty of storage space available on the phone. Of course, I established and documented the chain of custody when I downloaded the phone in my lab. 

If it’s important, why were the video recordings not protected from creation? If the video events depict a crime being committed and will be admissible in court, it is also important to maintain the chain of custody for authentication purposes. Verification and establishment of the chain of custody visually and digitally is necessary for forensic authentication analysis investigations down the line.

Tip #2: When possible, use the original video recording.

As a rule of thumb, always present the original digital video recording, not a copy. Copies of digital video recordings can be misrepresented if there is not an authentic chain of custody. Digital compression from copying and converting recordings affects the authenticity of the events as they occurred. In addition, improper copying affects the digital information used to determine the circumstances around a recording’s creation.

Sometimes, the surveillance videos may need clarification or enhancement. In this case, the original recording has undergone changes. Once the video enhancement process has been completed accurately, the derivative video work product is properly authenticated as an original representation of the events. A document describing the enhancement process completed by a trained professional, such as a video forensic expert, completes the process.

If you are uncertain if you have the original or if you believe you have an altered copy, seek guidance from a qualified and trained professional. Forensic experts authenticate digital video recordings scientifically and present a report of the digital integrity of the digital video file. Our experts provide a pro bono consultation to all clients.

Tip #3: Prepare your playback software for courtroom use.

As a rule of thumb, always prepare playing your video recordings before entering the court room. Make sure your video evidence is compatible for easy playback in court. Many of our clients at Primeau Forensics will give us a digital video recordings created on a closed circuit television surveillance system. Attorneys will often times enter a court room with a video requiring a proprietary player that will not open quickly. This keeps the trier of fact waiting for long periods of time, causing confusion and frustration.

When I enhance a video recording for courtroom use, I always export the video recording from my forensic software using a file extension that is easier to open than some of the clunky proprietary players that CCTV systems rely on for recording playback.

Before expert witness testimony, I always prep with my clients on the phone and in person. We use prep time to double and triple check our exhibits, some of which are demonstrative.

Tip #4: Prepare your playback equipment for sight as well as sound.

Will the jury be able to hear the audio clearly? Do you need a speaker or amplifier system to make the audio louder for everyone in court to hear? I commonly bring a suitcase of one or two playback equipment options to present all video properly.

Many courts that I have testified in have video playback equipment. Some of the video equipment that the court provides may not be a high enough quality higher resolution playback. Also, older systems may not be bright enough for the trier of fact to preview from. Double check with the court before hand to determine what playback technology they have available. Bring in any equipment necessary or outsource a company to do so, so the trier of fact can easily see and hear your video recording. If you have to rent equipment, make sure it arrives well in advance of the trial.

Before litigation, I am required to install proprietary courtroom viewing applications on my computer. The app completely messed up my computer. Because this was during prep time, I was able to undo the app and make other arrangements to play the video recordings. These kinds of errors are catastrophic for testimony, as well as your integrity and professionalism as an expert. Playback errors are better handled outside of the courtroom.

Tip #5: Bring enough copies for everyone.

Do you have copies of your video evidence for everyone involved in the litigation? Remember, you have to put an evidence/exhibit sticker on your digital video evidence. DVD exhibits have space to apply stickers on the label side of the DVD. USB drives are difficult to put evidence stickers on, but are growing in popularity as digital file size increases. When I present a USB drive, I place it in a small plastic evidence bag that looks like this:

Evidence and exhibit stickers and information can be placed on the bag itself.

These are the top 5 tips for presenting digital video evidence for court. If you have any questions about video recordings used in litigation as evidence, contact us.

Video Evidence Recovery for Video Enhancement

Video Evidence RecoveryThe importance of proper video evidence recovery is clear to those of us involved in forensic video enhancement. During the process of video evidence recovery, we make sure the highest quality video recording is properly saved for court use. Video forensic experts receive extensive training in video evidence recovery.

As a forensic expert, I have worked on many cases involving digital video recordings admitted into evidence in court. Much of our work with these recordings involves video enhancement, which allows the trier of fact to better see events as they occurred. Often times, video surveillance systems or smartphones record the digital evidence in question. We properly remove recordings from both mobile and stationary surveillance systems for forensic enhancement.

Stationary surveillance systems record video at locations such as convenience stores, banks, and other businesses or institutions. Buses, trains and other types of public transportation utilize mobile surveillance systems.

Evidence Recovery Importance

There are three main factors we would like to mention regarding the reason for proper evidence recovery. First, when we retrieve recorded video evidence, we create a video recording of our process. This establishes an indisputable chain of custody. It also demonstrates for those who were not present the process and procedure we used. We take special precautions during the retrieval process to make sure we leave with at least one version of the recording. Additionally, we leave with the recorded video evidence for future forensic enhancement and authentication as necessary.

We retrieve the recording so as to minimize any degradation of quality. When a lawsuit depends on the analysis of a surveillance video, it is important not to leave evidence retrieval to an untrained security guard.

We research the operator’s manual and connect with tech support from the surveillance company before traveling to perform evidence recovery. While on site, we also examine the administrative log and determine additional forensic information for the chain of custody.

Video Evidence Recovery Best Practices

An excellent manual for retrieval of electronic evidence developed jointly by the federal government’s inter-agency Technical Support Working Group, the FBI Forensic Audio, Video, and Image Analysis Unit, and law enforcement agencies from around the world. Entitled Best Practices for the Retrieval of Video Evidence from Digital CCTV Systems, it contains an authoritative (if somewhat dated) overview of the topic and covers many of the protocols we have adopted at Primeau Forensics.

Before digital audio and video recorders, retrieving a tape-based analogue recording was fairly straightforward. Recordings were made to tape cassettes, which were stored in climate-controlled conditions. Evidence retrieval was as simple as picking up the original cassette recording. Digital video recorders (DVRs), however, do not record to easily portable cassettes. Rather, they record to the kind of hard disk drives found in computers. These internal hard drives are not portable, making evidence retrieval more difficult. Whether we take the DVR or its internal drive with me or make a lossless copy of its contents, I always follow anti-static procedures and carry all media in specially shielded cases.

Proprietary vs Open Source Video

All surveillance and standard digital video uses a specific compression/decompression scheme or codec to record. The compressed file’s storage structure determines its format. It is not uncommon for surveillance DVRs to use proprietary formats, allowing playback only through the original recording DVR. Some DVRs can re-compress the original proprietary format file, trans-coding it into a non-proprietary format for easy playback. However, these more accessible files often contain lower quality video and audio. When we retrieve these digital video files, we study the DVR’s operating manual to find the best way to make a high quality copy that retains all data and metadata. By minimizing or eliminating the degradation that can accompany translating the file from one format to another, we ensure that our lab analysis is based on the best video recording available.