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How to Turn Digital Video into a Star Witness

Written By

Sean Goldstein

We live in a world in which video surveillance is omnipresent. Nowadays, we hardly bat an eye at finding ourselves reflected in a closed-circuit television (CCTV) screen in a supermarket, or realizing a friend took a video from last week’s brunch and posted it to social media. Video security footage, as well as footage from casual observers, exists in nearly every dimension of society, from law enforcement to the office to the privacy of our own home webcams. When it comes to criminal and civil justice, digitally-recorded footage is often indispensable in the outcome of court proceedings. It can be used to identify suspects or perpetrators, confirm witness statements, and piece together events where other evidence fails to do so.

As part of the discovery process, it is best that digital video and audio be recovered, preserved, examined, analyzed by an expert digital forensics team. Capsicum Group, with offices in NYC, Philadelphia, and South Florida, assists with all types of digital forensics including video analysis by investigating the content of digital recordings on behalf of attorneys, corporations and others. Forensic analysts examine media for signs of tampering and authenticity, enhance potentially hidden information, and accurately present findings in court. It is important to note that each state has its own guidelines for the use of surveillance films as evidence, and federal law offers its own standards as well. Some of the most important factors that are generally considered include disclosure, authentication, prejudice, and other admissibility issues.

Recently, we were called upon to assist in a case that involved charges of workplace threats and violence. Our task was to sort through CCTV video that had been repeatedly saved and written over in order to discover any recorded evidence of the alleged events. The following steps that we took in this case are typical of many forensic discovery processes involving digital video:

  • Retrieval. The video retrieval operation can be a delicate one, namely in cases in which the evidence may have been overwritten or otherwise damaged. In addition to retrieving the entire data set, a forensics team must record the make and model of a recording device, which assists in subsequent enhancement and analysis. A comparison copy must be created as well. The team must also have the capability to host potentially massive amounts of data.
  • Data culling and auditing. Due to the ubiquity of information recorded on digital devices including cell phones and cameras, many cases involve huge amounts of video. In this case, we had to sift through hundreds of hours of recorded data, narrowing our set down to the relevant timeframes that were pinpointed by counsel.
  • Determining authenticity. Techniques and software for the purpose of video manipulation are more widespread and accessible than ever before. Legal teams should expect the authenticity of any video evidence to be contested in court. An experienced forensics team can detect whether video has been deleted or manipulated. While not visible to a casual viewer, encoding can reveal discrepancies that indicate whether portions of video have been deleted or altered.
  • Reconstruction. Since, in this case, the CCTV video in question had been overwritten multiple times, we were tasked with reconstructing the relevant information. Often, due to deletions, accidental damage or malicious tampering, a forensic team must painstakingly reconstruct a video to as close to its original form as possible.
  • Enhancement. Multiple techniques are used to enhance video. Typically, CCTV video is not high-definition enough to provide all of the visual or audio details necessary for corroborating statements or disproving claims. Techniques like sharpening and interlacing help draw out previously-missed details from lower-quality video so that the images can be admissible as evidence. Often “still frame” enhancements are used at case presentations to drive home key points.
  • Analysis.  To be accepted in court, digital forensic findings must be accompanied by analysis that accounts for the procedures employed, techniques used and possible margins of error. Often, digital video evidence is accompanied by a slew of technical information that must be broken down and explained so that it can be understood by the average juror, and our internationally-recognized forensics experts are able to do just that, keeping the thread of our discovery process intact while elucidating the results of our analysis in layman’s terms.

In the absence of witnesses—or even in the presence of fallible ones—video evidence is the closest thing there is to reliving the events being contested in court. To build a strong case, counsel must consider all potential sources of video, from witnesses’ mobile devices to CCTV cameras on a street corner.  Capsicum Group’s team of legal and tech experts can help determine potential stores of video evidence, as well as go on to retrieve, preserve, examine, analyze and host it.

From day one, Capsicum Group, LLC has provided clients in multiple sectors across the globe with complex legal, tech and regulatory programs. For over fifteen years, we’ve perfected our team and our services, allowing us to tackle digital forensics, e-discovery, data recovery, cybersecurity and regulatory compliance projects of any size, from clients that range from local governmental agencies to multi-billion dollar corporations. No matter the level of complexity, Capsicum Groups’ team of tech and legal experts is equipped with the leading-edge technology and intensive strategies for your success. Learn more about our forensic recovery and cybersecurity services in Philadelphia, New York, and South Florida by connecting with us at www.capsicumgroup.com or by calling 1-888-220-3101.