Si: Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, and anybody who decides they wish to be of any other attributable gender, welcome to the Forensic Focus Podcast. Today we are very lucky to have with us both Martino Jerian from Amped and somebody who I’ve been listening to the podcast of for a while, Eugene Liscio. So, Eugene, for anybody who hasn’t come across you before, can you give us a brief introduction to yourself?
Eugene: Yeah, absolutely. So, I’m just located in the greater Toronto area, just north of Toronto, and my background is in engineering. So, I began my career as an aerospace engineer working for some aerospace companies, but obviously I made a career change into the forensics area in 2005. I primarily focused on 3D technologies.
At that time I was doing things like 3D animations and things like that. At least that’s I thought what I was going to be doing. And then over time, I got into things like laser scanning, photogrammetry, structured light scanners.
So, a lot of the work that I do today is using 3D technologies and fusing them or merging them with other technologies like video and, you know, sort of bringing them together to either reconstruct, you know, shooting reconstruction scenes or bloodstain pattern analysis or, you know, just witness perspectives and views. And I’m dabbling in things like virtual reality. And I also, just over a year ago released an iPhone app that’s a scanning app called Recon 3D. So, I’ve got my fingers in a few different areas.
Si: Fantastic. And yeah, I’m going to say again, I’ve watched your YouTube channel on many of these subjects, and it is fascinating. Martino, you’ve been a guest with us before, as have many of your colleagues from Amped and talked about a great many things. But today we’ve got you on to specifically talk about your recent interactions with the European Parliament, something sadly that Britain has decided they don’t want anything to do with, but fundamentally a fantastic organization. And you’ve been presenting about video evidence. How’s that gone for you?
Martino: Yeah, basically it’s a part of a kind of institutional activities we started to tackle. We organize already last year a meeting at the European Parliament, so this is a kind of follow up event. And it was for presenting a document I prepare with the cooperation of a few colleagues and industry experts that helped me take on various challenges.
And this document is called, in short, “Video Evidence Principles”, or in long (let me read it, sorry…I have it here), “Essential Concepts and Principle for the Use of Video Evidence for Public Safety in Criminal Justice,” or “Video Evidence Principles”. And yeah, basically the idea this is probably the first concrete document out of a series of activities that I have done in the past few years which tries to tackle the biggest issue, which we have in our industry: the lack of culture and education! So that’s it.
Si: Yeah. I think…you know, it’s interesting that video is coming more to the fore, I think, in the common consciousness. Definitely. And it’s…whereas digital evidence of other types has had a little bit of time to embed into the court system and the judicial system, I think video, strangely, has gone from something which everybody understood the ubiquity of, but nobody understood the technical aspect of, to a point where the technicalities are starting to become more understood. Do you think that’s true?
Martino: I think actually it’s even worse! In the sense that people think they understand video because they can watch YouTube or a video like the one we are recording now. They take vacation photos with the iPhone or the latest Android camera, and that’s great. Say, “well, who, who needs an expert?” And I mean, anything can go wrong at that point!
Eugene: Yeah. Actually, I’m kind of interested, Martino, I mean, the fact that you were able to organize a meeting at the, you know, with Parliament means that somebody thought it was important. And so I’m actually curious about how you…I mean, was there resistance to that? Were you trying to get, you know, in there for some time? Or was it…were you fairly well received right off the bat?
Martino: It’s not easy, and of course, it’s not my specialty, definitely. In fact, we worked with a consultant who did a great job of involving the right people, do the right procedures. A lot of calls over the past couple of years. A lot of emails which are sent by this consultant mainly, on my behalf. And yes, I’m producing basically the content, but not too much on the organizational side, to be honest. It’s not my piece of cake, let’s say, okay?! But I really enjoy the actual act of delivering this very important information to people who actually doesn’t have a clue about these issues!
Eugene: So, what kind of people were there at the meeting? Like, what were their backgrounds?
Martino: Different from people from embassies, from government and non-government organizations, from attaches. There were also some…actually, I was caught by surprise because I thought it was very institutional meeting, we actually had a couple of users, people from Ministry of Interior of various countries.
We have between the previous meeting and this year meeting, I think we had something like 20 or so different countries, both European and from out of Europe. But it’s been interesting, you know, especially the interaction not only there, because there it was…I mean, especially this year, we did a roundtable. So I presented, let’s say, my ideas, and then there was a lot of discussion (much more than expected actually), but also there has been a lot of meetings on Zoom or Google Meet or whatever. It’s been very, very new for me. I mean, it’s a totally new world.
Normally I speak with technical people most of the times, or anyway, something related to our business, which even when you do more of the commercial or marketing side is still very technical. This people, the kind of communication is much, much different. I mean, you don’t speak anything technical at all. You have to explain everything about these issues with analogies and very, very simple terms. So, there’s never an over simplification.
Si: Do you think that the people who you’ve been talking to have had their preconceptions formed by the presentation of video in popular media? So, obviously deep fakes are a very big thing now. And you know, we’ve seen…what is it, what’s the phrase? “Pan and enhance” or “zoom and enhance”, you’ve got it on stickers now. I’ve seen that you were handing them out at the conferences! But essentially the reality of video evidence and what we see on CSI on TV and in film are somewhat different. Are you finding that people were…had preconceived ideas of what was and wasn’t possible?
Martino: No, I don’t think in general that they give much thought about it. It’s kind of…we never consider that these are issues. In fact, the few that actually had some experience, I think in general, they understand the issue. But most of them, I mean, this was the first step for me: make them realize that there are some issues. Because they don’t really…I don’t think we…they were even at the point of thinking about the CSI effect or stuff like that. Just a video, a photo, wherever it’s…you can just see, and it’s not a problem with evidence.
Eugene: So, Martino, there’s a few issues, and you’ve highlighted this in the blog post, and, you know, you talk about everybody’s a stakeholder, and, you know, the fact that, you know, it affects everybody in the justice system, whether it’s the analyst or the victim or the suspect or whatever. And there’s sort of a flow that you’ve highlighted as well. And so the different areas that…could you just talk about, for example, from just from the beginning, like, somebody records the video: there’s issues there. Somebody that’s retrieving the video: there’s issues there. And just continue on down that path.
Martino: Yeah, sure. Yeah, I think in general the thing is that there are different issues coming from different phases of the…what I call the image generation model, which is how an image or video is created inside a camera, which in the simple situation can be a digital camera, but can be CCTV system with multiple cameras, a DVR.
Then there is the process of retrieving this information, especially from video surveillance system. There are many different ways of getting this video out, and some are good and some are not. Actually even for mobile phones is not the reason anymore, because depending how you pull out this data with a forensic acquisition, rather than sending via WhatsApp or whatever, you get a different file.
So, nowadays it’s so difficult to get an original file. And so, you have all these issues that are put together. So, if you imagine, I normally show on specific webinars and training this kind of big exploding chart where you see the lights, which come in through the lens, and then hits the sensor. And then after the sensor, there is this processing, and then there is all the export phase. And in each step of this processing, different defects and different imperfections happen, which make appear the image or video different than reality.
In a very straightforward example (I always do the same because it’s obvious), it’s the lens distortion, the lens distortion makes straight walls curved. And so often in forensic, you speak about integrity and authenticity. So, often I can have an image, which is the original, but is not authentic in the sense that doesn’t depict the real scene, because the walls in this example are curved not straight.
So, they are not representing how things they are. And that’s the overall idea which kind of legitimate the processing of images and videos for enhancement and restoration, because that is another very common question: how can I justify to the court that I process an image or video? You are actually touching evidence. I say, “yes, absolutely, but to get a better representation of the reality”. That’s more or less the idea. It’s a bit longer than this, but in a natural is the idea!
Si: So how do we reconcile the fact that we are actually touching evidence in order to present it in a way that is a better representation of reality? Because, you know, in other areas of forensics, we’re very, very strict about not altering our source material. How does one go about reconciling this to the lay person, or to the court, or indeed to another examiner?
Because at the end of the day, what we’re talking about in forensics is the ability to reproduce the same results, and in a camera perhaps with an unknown focal length and an unknown lens that, you know, your interpretation of what might be a lens distortion correction might perhaps differ from somebody else’s interpretation of a lens distortion correction.
Martino: Yeah, there are many different aspects. One is the idea is processing scientifically. I think this is the general idea. And it’s the fact that I’m not randomly moving a few sliders and to see if I like the image better, I’m understanding the defect, and I say, “okay, I understand (to an extent) the mathematical model of this defect, and within certain limits, I can invert this mathematical model and get an image without this defect.”
And understanding where in the image generation chain each of these issues is presented is essential because as a rule of thumb, I need normally to reverse this process in the opposite order. So, it means defects that are added at the end should be corrected first. And we are doing also…we did a few studies even with…we did even a few phases of universities on…with people working on the mathematics aspect of this.
We are in the process of publishing some paper on this, with both mathematical explanations and practical examples. And it’s very important because I thought as an engineer that something like this was very obvious, because, I mean, it’s clear at an intuitive level! It’s like when you dress up, you put first your socks and then your shoes, and then when you undress, you do the opposite, okay? So it’s…but then not to everyone was so obvious.
Someone says, “oh, correct, the worst problem first”. Someone else says, “I just try and see what looks better”. Which really, if you go to court, doesn’t hold it well! You must have some reasoning behind it. And so, okay, this is just one aspect about the enhancement, the restoration. The other is the algorithm that you use that should be good for forensics, which means they don’t, kind of, alter the data, introducing bias from outside.
They are repeatable and reproducible. So, if every time I do…run the same filter, I get a different result, that’s definitely not great for forensic applications. And also having impact from outside, it’s pretty dangerous. The explainability is another issue. I need to understand…I need to be able to explain at least in general terms, what the algorithm is doing. And for this reason, especially for enhancements, AI techniques are not great, in my opinion!
I wrote a few articles and posts on this as well. It doesn’t mean that we need to exclude at all completely in forensics, but especially for enhancement, and especially if we want to bring the results to court, there are serious issues in this moment. And then of course, being transparent about everything that we have done.
So, when you go to court, you bring the original image or video, the final result, and a very complete report or audio trail that shows you how these input video become the output video and all the steps of the processing that all the steps are legit, which parameters have been used. For example, in our tools, we also provide scientific references with all the papers or books where these been published. And yeah…so, it’s slightly, or very different, from the traditional digital forensics, but I think also the concept of integrity and authenticity is a bit different. So, this is the reason.
Eugene: And right, you know…sorry.
Martino: Sorry I went too long!
Eugene: No, not at all. I was…but you just prompted something in my head here. Which was, you talked a lot about the analysis, and this may be more of a comment than anything, but also the retrieval and the way that people pull the evidence from a DVR, how they record it. So, there’s been cases here (and I don’t know how they do it in other parts of the world), but sometimes the people pulling the video, they’re not…it’s not the analyst.
Sometimes it’s just, you know, the frontline people, the patrol people, and they’re not video analysts. And so there’s been cases where people have just been recording the screen with a phone or something like that of a DVR system. So, that introduces all kinds of issues and problems too. So, the level of education of the people at the frontline pulling the evidence, like, you can’t imagine somebody swabbing for DNA who’s never done it before, right?
So, you know, you would hope that it’s a crime scene investigator who’s been trained, who follows a procedure. They, you know, the way that they package the evidence and everything else. But with video, it doesn’t seem to be treated that way. So, I’m wondering why you think that might be.
Martino: Yeah, actually, would add before that it’s even worse than that. I mean, there are…in a lot of places they start to add this public evidence submission portal, which are great to save costs and everything. But if you cannot trust maybe a non-technical officer to do it properly, even less a random person that just had CCTV in his house or shop.
So, again, it’s a problem of education. And for this reason, I say everybody is a stakeholder because everybody nowadays is involve and can be…I mean, if something is going wrong with justice, we can be the victim. I mean actually it was very funny because I was explaining this to an officer at the Ministry of Interior here in Italy and explain the issues about this lack of knowledge of maybe an artifact of the compression that can be read as a license plate number.
And he look at me, say, “you know, it actually happened to me. They thought it was my license plate, and they send me a fine for a place I’ve never been because it was looking like my plate, but actually wasn’t, and I showed that I was another plate…in another place”, sorry! So, yes, it’s a big issue, and one of the key points of my principle is about the acquisition. Absolutely not accepting videos of a DVR monitor filmed with a mobile phone and sent through WhatsApp, that is not evidence, is a bad video or a bad photo of the evidence.
Si: Well, you said in your blog post that it’s easier to implement the proper chain of custody for video evidence. And I was wondering what you meant by that.
Martino: Yeah, if you compare…I was comparing mostly to traditional evidence, like DNA. I’m not an expert on that side, but I imagine that you need some procedures, some, maybe some fridge to keep the material stable, or maybe even physical fingerprint. You have to save and store them and put them in a locker. I mean, for files, it’s just checking the hash code at the end. It’s…maybe I’m oversimplifying it, but still it’s much easier to implement the chain of custody for digital stuff than for physical one, I think!
Si: We need you to have a word with the forensic science regulator in the UK because they seem to think that we need to adhere to the same lab standards as all of our…and I use the term ‘meat space’ for those of us that deal with…for those of them that deal with the blood splatter and the DNA. But that’s being enforced in the digital realm here, even though it’s not, as you say, it’s not a requirement.
We don’t have to have ice cold fridges and things like that. But I think the issue is to a certain extent that that familiarity breeds contempt is the expression and we all have mobile phones, we all take videos, we all send them to our friends on WhatsApp or Instagram, or pick your social media of choice. And thus, you know, a police examiner or a frontline person picks up a phone and goes, “oh, I know what this is, I’ll just do it.” And all of a sudden that evidence becomes contaminated.
So, training is definitely something that is an ongoing issue for frontline and for backend staff as well. I mean, you know, I’m sure you guys see plenty of reports in your various capacities that, that you’re looking at, going, “how on Earth did this get through any sort of quality control?” Because I know I do.
So, I’m sure it’s the same. But how, you know (and I’m going to steal one of Eugene’s questions because we did have a chat before this, and we’ll display how the sausage is being made as part of this podcast), but, you know, how would you recommend that an examiner, somebody who wants to get into the field of analyzing video?
Or actually, I’m going to ask this question to both of you. I think this is a good opportunity to leverage his…Eugene’s skill and experience in this field, having heard him speak previously. How should I, you know, I have a…I actually have a photography degree, so there you go…how should I get into doing video evidence? How should I get into doing picture evidence in court? What would your recommended paths and training and education be?
Martino: Eugene, I’d like to start.
Eugene: Oh, let me go actually. Because you probably have a better answer than me. So…
Martino: No, no, I want to steal your good bits!
Eugene: Okay. Well, first off, there are places where people can get training. So, you know, I…many people who get into video don’t always have a, you know, a scientific background. Sometimes they come from different backgrounds. They get into policing, they find themselves in a forensics environment or whatever, and then all of a sudden they’re doing video. And so there are organizations, there’s groups.
I was just at a conference a couple of weeks back. It’s the Ontario Forensic Video Analyst Association. So, there are conferences where you can get training. There’s a big organization called leva, LEVA, and I never remember the acronym, it’s something…Law Enforcement Video Analysts, and Martino, you can straighten me out.
Martino: Yes. Law Enforcement Emergency Video Association, or something like that.
Eugene: Right. So they have a complete, you know, like, certification program with different levels. So, obviously that is going to be important. But I will say one thing: there…one thing about video analysts that I think is rather special, and it’s not always the same in all different disciplines of forensics. There’s no rule book that says follow…I mean, obviously you want to follow procedure, but when it comes to video, the thing that amazes me most is the most knowledgeable people are the most experienced, the ones that have been around.
And part of the problem is there are so many different formats of video. There’s so many different, just caveats. And, you know, I’m part of some of these chat groups and such, and people always have questions about, you know, “I got this video and it’s not playing. I put it into the software. I don’t know what the heck’s going on.” And somebody says, “oh, I ran into that five years ago. You know, I got some notes here.” So, these people have their black books with all the secret notes and stuff that they put in there. And they’re very good at sharing.
So, the community is really good. You have to be involved in the community because you are going to find yourself in a situation where the software, the standards that you thought might work, are just not going to work. So that’s a very important point, which may be different than, you know, maybe blood stain pattern analysis or DNA or something which may have a stricter format or rules. And it would be more akin to maybe something like firearms.
Firearms is similar. There’s a lot of little caveats there about this gun has a modification, and in this year, the, you know, the manufacturer changed this little bolt on there that changes something. So, a lot of the people who work in that area are also really quite knowledgeable. They just have a lot of hands-on experience.
Martino: Yeah. I think I second your suggestions. There are training organizations and conferences like LEVA, FVA and a few others. LEVA offers a certification. So I know also the II offers certification on video. Of course, there are vendor trainings like ours. If you want really to go inside the topics, university courses on image processing or more specific digital stuff, I think they are…
Si: Now I’m going to interrupt, because I thought that, and then I went looking and I couldn’t find a single one. I think I found one somewhere in America on it. Do you actually know of a university course that will cover this topic?
Martino: Yeah, there are a few, I think, also in UK. Oh, let me…
Si: It’s unfair to put somebody on the spot in the middle of a podcast. But, you know, it’s interesting because it’s a field that I really want to get into. And I’m, you know, I’ve had the fantastic opportunity through Forensic Focus to come and do some of the training with Amped which a) was fantastic, and b) I learned so much.
And I…to be fair, the other thing that Martino alluded to just now was the list of references that the Amped software contains for the scientific papers, which I may have entirely cribbed and downloaded and worked my way through one after another to rather educate myself. But in the UK, I’ve looked for…there’s one, I think there’s one…
Martino: LJMU. LJMU.
Eugene: That’s Liverpool, John Moores.
Martino: They are I mean, not specifically on video forensics.
Si: That’s media forensics, isn’t it?
Martino: Yeah. They do all kind of forensics. But in general, I mean, to understand what’s behind it, you don’t even need…I mean, having something specific on forensics is great, but I think if you want to understand the basics, the theory of image processing, I mean, there are university courses on image processing in every engineering university.
And those are not specific for forensic, but still they are great for the background and the science behind it. So, and there are so many rabbit holes that you can follow when working on this that you can go into the proprietary video formats as Eugene was explaining. You can go into the enhancement side, authentication, comparison (that’s more for, kind of, anthropologist or something like that if you want to do face comparison), but still you need to have good knowledge of the video stuff.
And yeah, that’s…and of course, a lot of practice. Because you can do all courses that you want, but you don’t become an expert attending 1 or 10 courses, you need to work, and yeah…maybe work together with someone who’s already in this field. Join some community. On our end, for example, we have Amped Software Discord server. Now I think we have around 600 people or so, and there are a lot of interesting discussion.
And of course, as you just said, very often is, “oh, we have a problem with this format”, and we support many, many of these formats, and we add support for new formats every single day, every single week, because there are so many. But still, I mean, if you dig and dig and dig, you always find something new and something crazy, and say, “why did they do this?!” And sometimes you even find that they work properly. It’s rare!
Si: So, why is there such a plethora of formats, historically in video? You know, we…it is not like there aren’t a lot of file formats in IT in general, but video just seems to be way above and beyond the normal. What is it that’s caused this? From…I mean, I’m going to say Eugene again, you know, you having come from an engineering background, largely responsible for some of these problems! Why is this? What’s the reason that we’ve ended up in this place as opposed to the standardization that we see across so much of the rest of the industry?
Martino: I think it’s…there has been a bit of standardization, in the sense that nowadays, most of these proprietary formats have actually inside a standard codec (like H264 or growing amount of H265 )while legacy formats actually had really proprietary codecs. There are still some, but they are a few. What is actually no standard is the container, and this is mostly to put together multiple streams in the same file, to embed proprietary metadata. What is really proprietary often is the timestamp, which is why…?
And maybe GPS information or…and the reason behind it, I think there can be different reasons. One is because everybody wants to exploit in some way their devices in the structure in a way that’s…they need some field and they just reinvent the wheel without bothering of using what is in the standards, or for obfuscation.
I mean, they sometimes think that having a proprietary format is a kind of guarantee that only they can produce that video format, and so it’s kind of tampering proof in some way. Maybe (but I’m just guessing) can be also a way to avoid IP issues on codecs format and stuff like that. I don’t know. There are…there may be many reasons about it.
I don’t have a definitive answer. I think it’s just because it’s practical to them. But what makes me crazy is the fact that CCTV and DVRs at the end, their primary purpose is to be used as evidence when the bad happens. Why they don’t think about something which is easy and reliable as evidence and just dump bits, similar random ways complicating the life of everybody? They must have a reason!
Eugene: Yeah, I ran into something recently, like for example, going forward with Tesla video out of a Tesla vehicle. And it makes sense now in hindsight, but if you think about what they’re doing, they may not just be using the video just to record video. They may be processing that video for, you know, detecting things in the video for impacts or, you know, they want to avoid an impact or something like that.
So, the frame rates and the other things that are happening behind the scene may be different than what traditional video, you know, in a bank, just security cameras. So, there may be more of that coming where there’s these little nuances and little differences because people are using the video now in almost real time to process the images and do other things with it. So, I thought that was kind of interesting when I ran into that just a few months ago.
Martino: Yeah. And I think even on their end, probably…it must be say that some producer have good formats, they are reliable, they have good players, but definitely not all. Also probably even on their end, there is a kind of lack of education on what is needed for evidence in court. And I mean, many of these player, when they export, they actually either transcode the data, losing the originality, change the frame rate, they lose quality.
So, again, even on their end, they may lack the knowledge of the fact that an image, a video, is not just the visible part when you use it as evidence, but it’s much more. I don’t know.
Si: Yeah. I think I’ll give you an opportunity for a free plug for Amped on this one: I had the opportunity to go and do the Amped training on formats and I can’t remember what the exact course was and I did it with…is it Brad Sawyer? Is that right?
Si: Blake. Blake Sawyer. Apologies. In the US, online. And yeah, it was a fascinating experience looking at the way that certain outputs mangle things, for no obvious reason whatsoever. So yes, I both enjoyed it and was despairing at the idea that this was supposedly the output from a CCTV system to be used for evidence that it made no sense to me at all! So yeah, I totally sympathize.
Martino: But it’s fascinating at the same time. Sometimes we have these colleagues working all day of trying to understand new variants, or new formats, and it’s like, you remember the Matrix? Where there is the guy looking at the screen just looking numbers, typical Matrix numbers. “Oh, you see, nice lady there.” It’s more or less the same!
Eugene: Do you find that it’s coming up more and more, I mean, with the, especially, you know, now with drone imagery? You know, the stuff that’s going on in the Ukraine and wars. And like I said, we just talked about, like, new types of video that’s being introduced into vehicles and autonomous systems and stuff like that. Are you finding you’re getting more and more types of video that’s like, people are just, like, “I don’t know what’s happening here. Like, I need somebody, you know, professional to look at this?” Or is it less than before?
Martino: No, it’s always growing. I don’t really know what’s the actual reason. Maybe because we keep having more users, or since we give feedback, people say, “oh, yes, I also have this and this and this”, or I don’t think there are actually more. There are, I mean, yes, there are always new variants, but I think it’s a mix of reason, but it’s definitely growing, the amount of new formats that we receive. But must be say that in general, the oldest formats are the most complicated.
There are some very hard new ones, but mostly are variant of what we know, probably. Yeah, but sometimes they are encrypted and that is much more difficult. And if it grows the encryption, that’s sometimes we can tackle encryption, but sometimes you just see random stuff and it’s hard! Sorry, Simon.
Si: No, no. It’s interesting because I was going to say two things. One is, is the old…is it that the old formats are hard because people were still trying to figure out how to do it best and hadn’t quite optimized it and realized it? And thus as we’ve standardized around some simple concepts, perhaps, if not necessarily implementations, that we are getting towards a state whereby things are easier to interpret…was the first one.
And the second comment was: yeah, encryption, it’s a pain in the ass across the industry, across anything digital as a whole, it’s now a problem. And you see it more and more. And there are variations in the UK about, you know, we have the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, which means it’s illegal for you to withhold your passwords. So, you know, I can decrypt your data with your password, but the encryption that’s supplied on the video level may be at the very different state of accessibility for keys and things, especially if it’s coming out of, like Eugene mentioned, like drones and footage like that. That’s a whole another game. But there was a question in there somewhere, if you can find it…
Martino: Yeah, the main question was: why older formats were more difficult? And the fact is that (as I explained before) nowadays most of the video formats are: only the container is proprietary, but inside there is H264 or H265. While in the past there was not yet a clear video compression standard, so everybody was inventing its own codec. So, there were really proprietary codecs and yeah, you didn’t have much reference to look at for finding bit patterns and stuff like that.
Si: Out of curiosity, do you see…I mean, obviously, you know, time moves on. I mean, I did the case…I’m doing the case…I’ve done the case recently, which dated back to 2012…? It was a Windows XP machine. So, you know, I get historic cases on the digital front all the time. Do you get historic CCTV or historic evidence, video evidence much?
Martino: Okay. Let’s say that in general we don’t actually work on cases as a company. So, we get files just to help users when they can share with us for kind of understanding format and stuff like that. So we have just a limited view. In the past, I also did casework, went to court several times, and of course, we know several users who do, and still, from time to time, there is people receiving VHS. I received personally a few years ago VHS.
Once actually (and it was many years ago, but not too many, maybe 10 years ago), I received an export from a post office surveillance system on floppy disk! You can imagine how many frames you can store in a floppy disk! Yeah, so I actually worked on a, you know, big case years ago on a MiniDV tape and actually wrote my own software to decode MiniDV metadata.
So you…yes, you get all kind of odd stuff, and I’m sure there are cold cases getting reopened after years and years. I worked on digital…analog photos that we had to scan the negatives. But the vast majority is just somewhat modern CCTV. Of course, you mentioned Windows XP. It happens also that sometimes you have a video file whose player works only with a Windows XP without service pack, and not…doesn’t work in a virtual machine! So that’s crazy, but can happen.
Eugene: Yeah, Martino, you talked about, like, in the blog post or…there’s a document there, and you sort of broke it up into two sections. So, one was for the stakeholders and judges and juries. And then you did another section for the practitioners. And, well, let me ask you first about the stakeholders, sort of the things that they need to know. So, there was those four things. You talk about awareness and education, you talk about originality and education authentication, and then correct and transparent processing. But you also make a comment about the fact that judges and juries can be easily misled with evidence. So, can you talk about some of those things that you’ve mentioned in your blog post?
Martino: Yeah. I think the problem is that one thing is being technically good, correct, accurate. And one thing is being able to present your case well, okay? So, sometimes can happen, and it’s something I heard often from users, that if you are cautious and you work properly, very often the reply to a case is, “I don’t know. We don’t have elements to say, for example, is that guy or is not that guy,” for example. And maybe you did a very good work following all the guidelines, the procedures, very technically good. And maybe you are a bit shy, maybe you’re not the best presenter!
And then you have the guy from the opposing side very much better at presenting, of involving people, doing bold claims. “Yes. I’ve been working on that. And that and I can tell you trust my authority. I’m the best video analyst in the world. It’s definitely him because this and this and this…” And of course, the judges and juries and lawyers, often they don’t have the elements to judge who, let’s say, tells the truth or is right on this because how can they how can they judge?
And this is very difficult, also because if this, let’s say, bold expert, maybe it’s not believable, they don’t believe him, but at least they can…he can shadow some doubts on the work of the other, okay? It’s very complicated. I know there is one thing that we have in our little system in Italy that I think is not the same in all the places: there can be an expert, for example, of the prosecutor, an expert of the defense, and also an expert of the judge that is a super partes, which I think is a somewhat good way to solve this issue. Of course, is not always effective because if the defense lawyer or the prosecutor is very good in presenting can overcome even it’s judgment, but it’s a try!
Si: Yeah, it’s an interesting ground in the UK where if you are presenting as an expert witness, technically, even if you are being paid by one side or the other as an expert, you are acting for the court rather than acting for one side or the other. The reality is…
Martino: Yes. I mean, it’s everywhere like this. But yeah, it’s hard. Even with good intentions, it’s very hard to be completely unbiased.
Si: Yeah. I have been instructed once as a joint expert for the court, whereby you act on both sides, in theory. But you’re telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so it doesn’t matter anyway, does it?!
Eugene: Yeah. There’s even in civil cases here in Canada, or in Ontario, there’s a form that they even make you sign. And the form says that you’re going to be non-partisan, non-biased, and that your duty is to the court, whatever, and you sign it. But, you know, what does it mean, really? You know, you only know once you get to trial and you get to hear what people have to say. But you do raise a good point about the…you know, I’ve seen very good technical experts do an absolutely atrocious job on the stand. Just terrible.
They’re just not effective communicators, and that’s a really important point for people who are going to be talking about video evidence and presenting it. And you’re right, the opposite is true. You can have a really bad, you know, technician who presents well, and that can be problematic. But I wanted to ask you about report writing though, because…so, for example, in your…the software Amped, there’s like little outputs that you can provide. And I don’t know that there’s a standard way to report, but this question has come up.
I know for a fact I more than one time from video analysts saying, “hey,”…so, for example, when I do a suspect height analysis, I sort of have a way that I present my reports and they’re like, “hey, like, I’ve never done that before. Like, how do you report and how do you, you know, what…how much information do you put down in a report to the court?” And I’m just curious about either of you guys, if you have any comments on that?
Si: Sure. Go first. No, I can crib off your answers!
Martino: Yea. I think depends on many factors. The kind of case, of course, the experience of the analyst, the country, what your kind of customers requires. Probably…I liked (when I was actually actually doing casework), I like to lay out as a kind scientific paper where you have the, kind of, introduction, the abstract, the exhibits, the methodology with the tools used, the analysis, and then the conclusion, with a decent amount of technical details, but not too much to overwhelm the reader and put a lot of stuff in the annex with all the logs and yeah, the Amped FIVE reports and stuff like that, depending on how much stuff you need. So, I like, but that’s kind of my background: the scientist methodology.
Si: There is some legal training in this country, given by a company called Bond Solon, who give expert witness training. And they have come up with a format for expert witnesses. I think it’s based upon some court standard. So, actually, you see most people present a variation on that in some way, shape, or form. And mine is probably a little further from most than others. But it certainly adheres to all of the required legal bits.
But like Martino, I try and be…you’ve got to remember…the important thing to bear in mind is the target audience of what you’re writing and the target audience of what you’re writing invariably is not another expert. So, putting in a huge amount of technical detail is going to lose a jury is going to lose a judge is gonna lose the barristers, you might as well give up and go home. So, you are trying to get across as much supported evidence as possible with as little technical detail.
This is required to make it stand, and in English (or in Italian), but in common language that can be read by the people who it’s destined to be put in front of. Because if you are well into your acronyms and hugely technical terms, it doesn’t matter whether you are right or wrong, they’re just not going to get it. My experience of going to court is that, with all due respect to the way that jurors are selected, technical competence is not one of the criteria that is there.
And I also know that, you know, my daughter has a law degree, so I am very…and she also listens to this podcast, so she’ll know I’m talking about her. You know, they spend so much time learning about law and they spend so much time learning about cases that learning about the way the IT systems work: not that important, funnily enough. So, you know, even getting over simple concepts to a barrister especially, you know, one who’s been in the accused…sorry, a KC, King’s Council, who’s been around in the industry for the last 20 years. You know, they can turn their computer on in the morning and read their email, and beyond that, forget it. You have no hope.
So, succinct and in common language is what I would suggest to anyone. Analogies are important. Something my wife taught me (and she doesn’t listen to the podcast, so I can get away with saying whatever I like, unless my daughter tells her), but she has taught me the value of analogies in explaining things. And actually, so long as they stack up to the point that you require them to, they’re fine. They…analogies die after a point in time always, because they’re not what they purport to be. But that would be where, where I come at it from. So, as little this is required to get the point across.
Martino: Yeah. I think the big challenge is to simplify, but keeping correctness. Because if you oversimplify then you say something wrong, and then the expert of the opposing side can start to point, “oh, you write this, but it’s not exactly like that and that and that.” So, that’s a challenge. And what I’ve seen in reports from UK and US, normally they are way less formal and way shorter than, for example, what we have in Italy.
In Italy, really, it depends on the author, of course. But in general, they are more targeted to the other expert. So…and you try to protect your, kind of, workflow and your results as much as possible, as you would do for a scientific paper. And the other party is trying to tear down your work in a way. So, you must be very careful to the last single word. And this kind of simplification normally happens in court. We’re in court to testify and the judge of the lawyers, the prosecutor does the cross examination. At that point, they start with your report and try to get a kind of human understandable version of that.
Eugene: Yeah, I just wanna give a shout out actually to Jonathan Hack, who does a lot of expert witness training. And I haven’t taken his training, but everyone that I’ve spoken to has given it very high marks. So, it’s kind of interesting. Another question I have, actually, and maybe for both of you, and that has to do with the presentation of video evidence.
So, I mean, I do a lot of 3D work, so sometimes I’m at trial, and depending on where you are, you might have an old crappy, you know, LED screen or a projector or something like that, and all of a sudden your aspect ratio is off your, you know, the colors look all weird. Sometimes it even looks better depending on where you are. But it, you know…than what it actually is. So, I’m curious about your thoughts on how you can give a proper representation of the video evidence at trial.
Martino: I think that’s hard. And if you think your situation is bad, remember that when I was doing this in Italy, we had to print pictures on paper. And if you were lucky, you could pass your laptop from people to people. So, that’s complicated. On the other hand, I think as experts…okay, we should, I mean, it’s good to show to people things how they are, how they appear, but again, we should draw our conclusion or just say the facts that we can observe. Nobody is asking the jury to look at the Microsoft on DNA or fingerprints, okay?
So it’s important…since they can somewhat understand…if it’s very visible, probably it’s worked. But if you’re speaking about two blobs of pixels that maybe are a letter, maybe are not, maybe you can count two or three people in a car, maybe trying to show it to them on not perfect equipment, or even it with perfect equipment, but to, and I’m trying to die in court, can go wrong!
Si: The summary of the day: can go wrong! I’m going to say, I’ve been in a number of courtrooms in the UK, and although in theory there is a standardized system for presenting stuff on a screen, I’ve found that it varies between every juror and counsel and the judge all having their own individual screen in front of them, to: there is a screen and it’s right at the back of the courtroom and everything goes up on that. And if you’ve written it in anything other than a 48 size font, forget it. You’re not going to be able to read it anyway.
And watching…I tried to avoid…I’m going to say I don’t do video evidence very often, so it’s not something that I’ve actually come across as a problem. I have presented documentary evidence and, sort of, tried to show screenshots of networks or Bitcoin transactions or all sorts of other digital evidence that does have quite a lot of detail in the numbers. And, you know, you can forget it. It’s, you know, you might as well just, you know, draw it on the clip chart, you stand a better of the chance of the jury understanding it. So, yeah, it’s definitely something that can go wrong as Martino has said!
So, I think we’re coming to the top of an hour for recording for us, which is wonderful. And I have so enjoyed this, but I think perhaps the question that we can close on is: okay, so you know, you’ve been to the European Court, sorry, European Council…sorry, what was it?
Si: Parliament, yeah. And spoken to them, now twice. So, what’s next with the European Parliament? Is there a follow up to this? Is there a next steps? Where does this go from here?
Martino: Now my idea is to, as much as possible, spread around this video evidence principles. We start with…at European level, but then we should go to different states and countries as much as possible, because, I mean, it’s…we are not actually speaking about law, but just best practices, guidelines. Not even those, because I’m not, kind of, competing with the documents from DMC or the SWIGD or the Oza or UK FSR or whatever. I consider this document a kind of advertisement for them to say, “guys, we have these issues, you have some good guidelines,” and they cover different aspects of these guidelines I mentioned.
And…but probably the most important thing is use some guideline. Don’t reinvent the wheel every time because people have dedicated time and effort to think about the problem discuss, right? Because we’ve been into writing these documens, contributing to writing these documents, is very painful because takes three years to get out one document sometimes because everybody’s contributing with his own point of view, his opinion, discussing on a single word for hours. So, it’s a lot of work and I don’t think they are used as much as they should do.
So, this document, it was a lot of work on my end, but it was easier because it’s just me and maybe debating with some colleagues very quickly. And it was done much faster and on a much higher level with, kind of, more freedom on the things to say. And the point is, please understand that there are some issues. Tell to other people that there are issues and that impacts all of us. And when you actually do the work, start with this, but actually go studying the good best practice manuals, guidelines, SOPs, whatever is needed! Don’t try to reinvent the wheel with a random workflow every time, which is not good!
Si: Excellent, good advice. And hopefully some people will listen!
Well, I’ll close it up, but I will close it up by handing over to Eugene. Eugene, do you want to let everybody know where they can come and hear more from you?
Eugene: Yeah, sure. So, I really think probably the best thing is the YouTube channel. So, I have a program called Forensics Talks, and that one is really focused on many aspects in forensics. So, I interview guests from around the world. Martino was one of my past guests, talking about video evidence. But, you know, I do things like DNA. I talk about, you know, blood stain pattern analysis. I talk about things that are way out of my wheelhouse.
And so I would say if you can, you know, go ahead and chime in there, you know. Often talk about newer concepts and research and things like that too. So…and yeah…and that’s something we haven’t discussed here too, but hopefully some of what Martino is learning will prompt areas of new research too. So, it’s just kind of cool. But yeah, that’s probably the best place is YouTube. I do have a website. It’s just ai2-3d.com And that’s my main website, my work website. So yeah, just contact form or LinkedIn or whatever and people can get ahold of me.
Si: Fantastic. Martino, I mean, obviously you’ve been on with us before, so you have…there’s previous interviews with Forensic Focus Podcasts. There’s reviews of Amped Software in there, and some of your colleagues we’ve spoken to as well. So, you know you can find Martino there and he’s out in the world talking to European Parliament, so you know, you’ll probably bump into him somewhere!
So that leaves me to say thank you very much for joining us today. All relevant links will be included in the show notes underneath what you are watching at the moment. And just to say thank you very much, Eugene. Thank you very much, Martino. I actually thoroughly enjoyed today! It’s been great talking to you both. And I look forward to doing so hopefully again in future. That would be wonderful. I’ve really, really enjoyed this collaboration. So, thank you very much. I will stop the recording and let you get on with your days. Brilliant. Thank you so much.
Martino: Thank you. Bye!
Eugene: Thank you. It’s been a pleasure. Bye-bye.