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.

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.