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Police Tell Victims to Investigate Digital Crimes Themselves

A report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC), the official watchdog in England and Wales, has found a trend for police officers telling victims of crime to investigate digital crimes themselves by checking for CCTV footage or conduct local enquiries by speaking to neighbours.

Aside from the political and ethical questions surrounding post-austerity police forces expecting victims of digital crimes to investigate their own cases, what are the practicalities of collecting and analysing digital evidence such as CCTV or mobile phone data?

Investigate digital crimes from personal CCTV footage

In a recent interview on this story for BBC News Magazine Monitor, Keith Cottenden, CYFOR Director of Digital Forensics, was asked about keeping your own CCTV as evidence. He said:

“The video produced by the most basic cameras is perfectly acceptable as evidence. It is now possible to buy relatively sophisticated home security systems, including CCTV cameras, from online retailers like Amazon. These can capture crimes as they happen and, if image quality is good enough, may even be able to make out identities.”

Postcode lottery

The HMIC review found a nationally inconsistent picture over whether officers attended crimes. For crimes such as burglary of dwellings, there was clear evidence of police investigation and supervision. However, for other offences such as theft from a motor vehicle, many were not attended. In one area, officers turned up to fewer than one in ten vehicle thefts and only two in five of all crimes.

Keith Cottenden told BBC News:

“With nearly 5 million CCTV cameras in the UK, many of the UK’s neighbourhoods and businesses are covered – but not all. Particularly in relation to vehicle crime, a well-positioned personal CCTV camera could be helpful as a deterrent but also in the aftermath of a break-in or criminal damage. The footage you capture may be useful to the police. But be aware of privacy issues when installing a camera. Filming your own property is fine – filming a neighbour’s is not.”

Mobile phone evidence

Keith Cottenden commented:

“The police have a range of investigative techniques at their disposal not available to the rest of us, but digital forensics investigators like CYFOR, who regularly investigate digital crimes, provide specialist support to law enforcement agencies, have the ability to extract digital information for use in criminal or civil court cases.  In many cases, we make these services available to members of the public.”

CYFOR works closely with the UK and international police forces on investigations involving electronic information from a range of devices including computer hardware and more and more, mobile phones. This expertise can quite readily be applied to persons seeking to recover data from their own devices.

Keith Cottenden said:

“Modern smartphones perform such a range of tasks and are thus so closely linked to our day-to-day activities that they contain data that is very useful to digital forensics investigators. GPS data’s ability to track an individual’s location and subsequent movements is one such example, and can be taken in conjunction with call records, WiFi, network data, Bluetooth and email messages to help corroborate evidence.”

Keith Cottenden added:

“As digital forensic experts we face a constant battle to stay abreast of the latest technologies that may be used in an investigation. To expect an amateur to safely go about conducting a digital investigation is, I feel, a stretch too far. Even the police turn to us when there is a gap in their expertise. CYFOR employ forensic techniques to ensure that data extracted from electronic devices is accurate, forensically sound and, if necessary, can be relied upon in court.”

DISCLAIMER: The contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.

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