Before I begin I want make it clear that I work as a subcontractor for several different police forces throughout England. I work for several private/defence clients too. I feel that this gives me good insight and a balanced point of view towards the two. I know that this can be a somewhat emotive subject but, having said that, I am not one to stay quiet on subjects that I feel strongly about. My colleagues know that, if they discuss it, that I will interject and verbally assault anyone that disagrees with me.
As a contractor for the police we are tasked with providing forensic reports and statements based on computer or phone evidence. During our day to day work we encounter the same material to which the police themselves are exposed. We perform an investigation on the submitted evidence and then send the evidence, and the reports, back to the relevant constabulary while we retain copies for archiving purposes. We act on behalf of the prosecution in these cases. We are, in essence, doing the job of a trained cop.
As such it is my opinion that we should be permitted access to all the same training and software that are furnished for law enforcement officers.
Earlier this year a conference was held with the subject matter based on mobile/cell phone forensics. On average our company completes around 80 phone investigations for various forces per month. With this in mind we decided it would be a good idea to send a couple of our phone invesigators along to learn about any new developments. Upon contacting the organisers of the event we were told that we could not attend as we were not law enforcement. Factually this may be the case but in what way do we really differ from law enforcement officers? We do the same work, their work, and we’re even on the ‘same side’ so to speak, so what reason could there be to exclude us? No explanation was offered. Not even an irrational explanation.
Excluding private and defence experts from such conferences is a strange practice. Expert reports and statement that form part of a criminal case, along with the testimonies given, are made public record (obviously with some exclusions). As a result any new investigation techniques discussed at closed conferences will seen become open knowledge anyway, so what is the point of restricting the flow of information in the first place?
The chasm between law enforcement and non-LE personnel widens drastically when you look further afield. Commercial software and training is offered to law enforcement at a significantly reduced rate. Why is this? Everyone that I have discussed this matter with has been unable to provide a concise answer. Is it due to budgetary requirements? Everyone has budgetary requirements to meet, in what ways do private companies and police forces differ in that regard?
Software such as iLook, COFEE, and many others are released as forensic and/or indicent response tools for the use of law enforcement personnel only. Once again, the question is ‘why’? We work in an adversarial legal system where fairness and equality for both prosecution and defence should be central to each and every case. The legal system should be fair. The evidence and tools used by the prosecution experts should be accessible to the defence, how else can the legal system claim to be fair? A defence expert may be left with no recourse if the prosecution presents evidence that has been found using one of these ‘LE only’ tools that has not, and can not, be indepently verified or the results challenged. Should the court allow this? Of course not. But for some reason it is acceptable.
The legal system is about fairness and equality. How can disqualifying forensic practitioners from events or software be in the best interest of the law or justice? Why should it matter whether or not they wear a badge and carry a gun?
Something ironic to finish. One of the organisers of the aforementioned conference (a police officer) recently contacted our company asking for some information relating to a case that we recently completed for a different force. We do not do any work for his force in fact they do not outsource any of their work or permit the evidence out of their compound. We’ll gladly furnish him with the data but he’s not going to like our conditions or the cost.
This subject is not going away. We will be discussing this very topic on a future episode of Forensic 4cast. If you want to appear on that episode to share your own point of view let me know.