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Police forces struggling to cope with digital evidence from child abuse cases

The National Children’s Charity (NSPCC) has revealed that police forces are struggling to cope with the mountain of digital evidence from child abuse cases, due to a lack of resources. 

However, national digital forensics firm CYFOR says that an immediate solution would be for them to outsource their cyber-crime investigations to specialist companies that are fully equipped to examine digital evidence from child abuse cases.

Digital Evidence Specialists

Stephen Atkinson, who is a member of CYFOR’s digital forensics team said:

“The lack of specialists within police forces is a real issue. Analysing digital evidence of any kind is time-consuming and labour intensive work even with the help of specialist software. But we need to keep up with the increasing volumes of evidence.”

According to a Freedom of Information Request, thousands of computers are being seized by police forces in England and Wales but they do not have enough investigators to do the analysis needed.  For example, last year Lancashire Constabulary seized 750 computers but had just 3 digital investigators to examine the images on them.

Stephen Atkinson commented:

“CYFOR regularly work with the police who are committed to securing convictions whenever possible, the trouble is they are limited in terms of the number of hours they can practically spend examining each computer hard drive. It can take up to 3 days to do a proper forensic job on each machine  – analysing images by comparing them to a database of known offensive images – and when faced with a constant stream of evidence coming into their labs, added to an existing backlog, their investigative work inevitably suffers.”

The risk to victims is increasing

Stephen Atkinson, who previously worked for Thames Valley Police, believes there is an increasing risk to victims because resources are limited and the nature of the forensic methods used requires detailed analysis.

“Digital forensics investigators will firstly use specialist software to examine images to determine whether they are potentially illegal or not, by cross-checking them against a national database of known illegal images.”

Guidelines on sexual offences categorise indecent image offences on a scale from the possession of an offending image to ‘contact offences’ of taking or making an image at source.

Stephen Atkinson added:

“However, the issue arises with images that are offensive but not on the database, if these are not flagged, then not only does the database not get updated, but a more serious contact offence could go undetected.”

Greater outsourcing may be the answer

Stephen Atkinson concluded:

“CYFOR can assist police forces dealing with child abuse cases by filling the gaps in their capacity and at the same level of expertise and skill as theirs; practically this can either mean we undertake the initial processing and categorising of a large volume of images allowing police officers to then come in and do the more detailed specific investigation, or we can come in at a later stage in the process taking the identified images and establishing the true extent of the crime committed.”

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