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CYFOR’s forensic analysis expert in the media

How CYFOR’s forensic analysis expert shaped the media coverage of the James Foley/ IS video footage.

It has been an incredibly busy month for CYFOR in the media, with our¬†forensic analysis¬†experts appearing on BBC News, BBC Breakfast and SKY News, and interviews by The Times and The Independent – the list goes on…

The public is constantly inundated by stories in the media relating to terrorism, fraud, and other crimes that have a technological aspect, but do we all really understand the forensics behind these cases?

The purpose of CYFOR’s media outreach is not only to highlight our recent work in the fields of digital forensics and eDisclosure but to help journalists in the national media illuminate the big news stories of the day. Take the tragic case of US journalist, James Foley, whose execution was recorded on video and released by the Islamic State (IS) militant group and posted to the internet.

The story, while shocking and upsetting, raised several questions for a digital forensics investigator of audio and video evidence. CYFOR Director, Keith Cottenden, was invited to appear on Sky News on the day the story broke and has since been interviewed again by Sky News on another story related to analysing these IS videos.

Audio and Video Analysis

Keith was asked to provide his view on whether the recording was authentic, could the people be identified with a degree of certainty and where and when did the events take place? He scrutinised the contents of the video: the clues to be found in the height of the killer, the background scenery, phonetic analysis of the accent characteristics, and how the intelligence agencies may go about cross-referencing and comparing any previous footage gained.

The Limits of Forensic Analysis

Despite the relative sophistication of the video and audio production quality, Keith was also at pains to stress the myth of the near infallibility of forensic science and its ability to neatly and swiftly solve all crimes with the kind of certainty that television programmes deliver each week. Unfortunately, the reality is far more complex and reliant on prolonged, extensive and multi-disciplined investigative techniques that test the limits of statistical probabilities rather than the speedy certainty dished up by the likes of CSI.

Digital forensics determines the accuracy, processing speed and ultimately the conviction rate of our criminal justice system. In so doing CYFOR is helping to fight crime and raise the media’s awareness of the capabilities and limits of digital forensics techniques.

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