Police Are Mishandling Digital Forensic Evidence

Police officers are trampling over vital forensic evidence, are under-trained, and often do not know what they are looking for, MPs investigating digital disclosure problems have been told.

Giving evidence to a justice select committee inquiry into failures to hand over material that have led to multiple court cases collapsing, leading digital forensic experts warned of funding shortfalls and inadequate skills.

“One of the problems is the sheer amount of digital evidence the police have to look at,” said Dr Jan Collie, of Discovery Forensics, who specialises in defence work.

“You have to consider the cloud [for digital storage], too. There’s evidence everywhere. With cuts in funding, officers don’t have the time to do all that.

“When I first started, the police had their own digital forensic units and knew what they were about. Now you are getting very sketchy evidence. People give me screenshots of pictures of a phone. I need to see [a copy of the] original, be able to repeat and verify tests.”

Police forces do not have sufficient resources, she added: “When they have the people, they haven’t got the money to send them on courses.” Officers do not always understand the context of where digital information is found – whether it has been inadvertently hoovered up through a browser or purposefully searched for, Collie said.

“A lot of police stations have mobile phone extraction kiosks where they put a mobile phone in and press a couple of buttons, but it’s not enough analysis. A police officer who has been trained for about a day can use the equipment. He can click it in and handle the buttons, but often they spoil the evidence by mishandling. It’s like they have trodden on the evidence. Interpretation of data is being carried out by ordinary officers – they are not trained to do it.”

Many recent cases that collapsed involved rape charges where crucial text message exchanges were either missed by investigators or only released belatedly. 

Prof. Peter Sommer, an expert witness in digital forensics cases, told MPs: “These kiosks are designed for preliminary inquiry, to see if it is worth pursuing. They don’t really produce reliable evidence. 

“It’s cherry picking. The posh phrase is confirmation bias. It’s got worse because the volumes you have to deal with have got much greater. These tools have deskilled [people]. Unless you know what you are looking for, the results can be very misleading.”

He also pointed out that underfunding of the criminal justice system was leading to many digital forensic experts to quit. “People are ceasing to do it because it’s uncompetitive,” he said. “In criminal work, it’s £72 an hour. If you work for civil case clients, it’s £250 an hour.”

Dr Gillian Tully, who is the official forensic science regulator, told the committee: “Police digital forensic units are quite good at extracting information and making copies. They then pass copies to the general police, and investigators don’t necessarily have the tools to search the information or make good use of it.” 

Tully has called for additional funding for forensic science, adding: “When it comes to legal aid funding, it’s largely awarded to the business with the lowest quote – which is not helpful for quality.” 

Sommer suggested one way to solve disclosure failures would be for all the digital material to be handed over to the defence. But Rebecca Hitchen of charity Rape Crisis, told the committee that disclosure of highly personal evidence often leads to victims refusing to testify, particularly in sexual assault cases.

“When a complainant learns of the level of intrusion into their lives, they often decide it’s not in their best interest to continue,” she said.

“There’s incredibly high levels of withdrawal [from police investigations around the issue of personal history, for example if someone had an abortion at an earlier stage and the police can’t give an assurance that it won’t be revealed. The sensation of sex crime survivors is often that they are being put on trial.”

College of Policing:      Guardian:         Met Police

You Might Also Read: 

UK Police Give Cybercrime Warning:

Terrorists Deploy New Techniques To Counter Digital Forensics:

« Terrorists Deploy New Techniques To Counter Digital Forensics
Bank of England CIO Sets A Cybersecurity Challenge »

CyberSecurity Jobsite
Perimeter 81

Directory of Suppliers

FREE eBook: Practical Guide To Optimizing Your Cloud Deployments

FREE eBook: Practical Guide To Optimizing Your Cloud Deployments

AWS Marketplace eBook: Optimizing your cloud deployments to accelerate cloud activities, reduce costs, and improve customer experience.

CYRIN

CYRIN

CYRIN® Cyber Range. Real Tools, Real Attacks, Real Scenarios. See why leading educational institutions and companies in the U.S. have begun to adopt the CYRIN® system.

Jooble

Jooble

Jooble is a job search aggregator operating in 71 countries worldwide. We simplify the job search process by displaying active job ads from major job boards and career sites across the internet.

IT Governance

IT Governance

IT Governance is a leading global provider of information security solutions. Download our free guide and find out how ISO 27001 can help protect your organisation's information.

Practice Labs

Practice Labs

Practice Labs is an IT competency hub, where live-lab environments give access to real equipment for hands-on practice of essential cybersecurity skills.

Syxsense

Syxsense

Syxsense brings together endpoint management and security for greater efficiency and collaboration between IT management and security teams.

XYPRO Technology

XYPRO Technology

XYPRO is the market leader in HPE Non-Stop Security, Risk Management and Compliance.

CSI Consulting Services

CSI Consulting Services

Get Advice From The Experts: * Training * Penetration Testing * Data Governance * GDPR Compliance. Connecting you to the best in the business.

DigitalStakeout

DigitalStakeout

A simple and cost-effective solution to monitor, investigate and analyze data from the web, social media and cyber sources to identify threats and make better security decisions.

Cylance Smart Antivirus

Cylance Smart Antivirus

An antivirus that works smarter, not harder, from BlackBerry. Lightweight, non-intrusive protection powered by artificial intelligence. BUY NOW - LIMITED DISCOUNT OFFER.

Scale Computing

Scale Computing

Scale Computing is an industry leading application platform for EDGE computing environments covering retail, manufacturing, financial services and government.

Bandura Cyber

Bandura Cyber

Bandura provides network security solutions for automated protection against inbound attacks and outbound data loss.

Wheel Systems

Wheel Systems

Wheel Systems specialize in privileged access management, user authentication and authorization and SSL/TLS encrypted traffic inspection.

CybelAngel

CybelAngel

CybelAngel is a leading digital risk protection platform that detects and resolves external threats before these wreak havoc.

Nettitude

Nettitude

Nettitude, an LRQA company, is an awards winning provider of cyber security, compliance, infrastructure and incident response services.

SYSGO

SYSGO

SYSGO is the leading European provider of real-time operating systems for critical embedded applications in the Internet of Things (IoT).

Axxum Technologies

Axxum Technologies

Axxum Technologies is a premier provider of Network Communications and Information Technology Security Solutions.

Outseer

Outseer

Outseer is a leading technology company in the fight against payments fraud. Outseer reliably determines authentic customers from fraudulent behavior.