As I write this in October of 2016, a constant of American life is the inescapable media coverage of critical incidents involving law enforcement. The Media, in a free and open society, plays a critical role reporting and providing to the public a degree of transparency about how our government is policing us. We should be cautioned, however, to form our own individual opinions when digesting these events and to avoid being led blindly by a media narrative woven with information that is often, at best, incomplete, and at worst, completely wrong. It’s easy to forget that even the best media coverage lacks the context that comes from having all of the information available to investigators.
The most important part of that information is, of course, the evidence. The evidence is and always has been the impartial witness that enables the facts to be known and justice to be served. Evidence collection and processing has evolved over several hundred years of policing into a mature discipline. A critical component of this discipline is “chain of custody”, a process that seeks to ensure the integrity of the evidence from the time of collection to final disposition of the case. Until recently, the traditional processes and technology used for evidence management had been sufficient. Unfortunately, that is no longer the case. A disruptive force threatens even the most mature evidentiary processes. This force, in a word: data.
Every day we create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data, and a staggering 90% of the world’s data was created in the last two years. While the digital evidence associated with critical law enforcement incidents represents a tiny percentage of that data, it is undoubtedly one of the most important parts of it. While no data points exist to speak to the amount of digital evidence being created daily, empirical observations are telling. In addition to the video evidence generated by Body Worn Cameras (BWC’s) used by police officers, other sources such as video surveillance systems and the proliferation of video recording by the public are all contributing to an ever-growing mountain of digital evidence that must be managed. This huge trove of data combined with public scrutiny of critical incidents is exerting new pressures on both law enforcement administrators and the technology they use to manage it.
Evidence management systems have evolved significantly from the paper systems of the 1960’s and the mainframes of the 70’s that were only tasked with tracking physical evidence. The personal computer revolution at the end of the 80’s finally enabled digital evidence management, even if only in the most rudimentary fashion. Today, the rise of the cloud has enabled the creation of a new class of cloud-enabled Digital Evidence Management Software (DEMS) products, purpose-built to manage the enormous amounts of data we must maintain with integrity. While its admittedly not a panacea, in today’s world, cloud-based DEMS may represent the best method we have for ensuring that all evidence eventually facilitates justice.
Stuart is a cybersecurity consultant and the CISO for Austin, TX-based Neverfail LLC. Accurately described as being at the intersection of cybersecurity and the “real world”, Stuart expertly advises organizations on all matters security so innovators can have the safe spaces they need to change the world. A long-time Austin resident, Stuart served our community with a long and distinguished career in law enforcement before changing his focus to tech security. Stuart runs his own blog at www.cloudinsanity.com where he explores a variety of issues related to tech and law enforcement.