AccessData has been working with the UK’s Royal Military Police Service Police Crime Bureau to speed up their forensic investigations. In addition to the obvious benefits in efficiency and reputation, there are pure cost gains.
The UK government has recently been trying to reduce the time and expense of dealing with “the law” in its various forms. To those of us whose primary focus is civil litigation, this government intervention has taken the form of restraints on costs, engineered by strengthening judicial control of case management, by limiting recoverable costs and by an express emphasis on proportionality. The reforms have been accompanied by cuts in civil legal aid and in front-line court staff, with obvious implications for the efficient working of civil justice.
At the same time, there are battles going on about the right to bring judicial review proceedings and about the availability of legal aid in criminal proceedings. There has been much criticism of the proposals on broad grounds to do with access to justice, but much of the attack has been based on the Ministry of Justice statistics and on the mismatch between the government’s alleged targets and those who will suffer by the changes. Critics (of whom I am one) say that, quite apart from any arguments about justice or fairness, the alleged savings seem to take no account of the consequential costs of the changes – the hearings prolonged because of unrepresented parties, the actual and social costs of the anticipated increase in convictions, and the other things which flow when the system goes into paralysis.
Meanwhile another and more specific debate is going on about the length of police bail, something which has attracted attention as a result of police activity against high-profile figures involved in phone hacking, and in unacceptable sexual activities alleged against faded celebrities. Many of the suspects have had their houses raided at dawn, something else which has excited adverse comment as we question whether a senior newspaper executive or 80-year-old BBC “personality” is going to do a runner if given notice of impending arrest. We agitate on their behalf when they are bailed for months or even years, with the stigma and the pressure hanging over them whilst the police proceed with their procedures.
The arguments in respect of dawn raids and police bail, however, are not as black and white as those against the civil reforms. Though it is unlikely that the retired press executive or aged celebrity will disappear overnight to some jurisdiction from which he or she cannot be extradited, there must be a real risk that diaries and photographs will go into the incinerator and computers mysteriously disappear, and it is this which is used to justify the dawn raids. What of the extremely long bail periods? What takes the police so long to collect the evidence?
One answer lies in the resources available to the police at a time when security questions, as well as more routine criminal ones are rising claiming their attention. Another is something which criminal investigations have in common with civil disputes – there is a lot of data out there, on multiple devices and device types, backed by large and cheap storage bought from the High Street or available in the Cloud. Chief Constable Chris Eyre, of the Association of Chief Police Officers says “Hi-tech crime investigations, computer forensics, CCTV, telephony, using interpreters or gathering evidence across borders and jurisdictions can all take time and painstaking analysis.”
This is an area in which forensics and eDiscovery software provider AccessData has particular experience. AccessData has been working with the Royal Military Police Service Police Crime Bureau, based near Portsmouth, to enhance and develop its facilities and ability to react promptly when evidence must be gathered from computers and other devices in support of an RMP investigation. I spoke to Simon Whitburn, SVP International at AccessData in London, after noting that AccessData had come out in support of calls by the Law Society for a statutory maximum on police bail terms.
Whether or not a statutory maximum is appropriate, it is certainly possible to reduce that part at least of the investigative process which involves forensic investigations. AccessData has provided RMP with server-based technology which allows the RMP to ingest and process very large volumes of data from multiple sources, from routine things like mail and Word files through to sources like the Xbox, IOS and Android operating systems. AccessData’s FTK and AD Lab are the primary tools and AccessData’s Mobile Phone Examiner MPE+ product is used to collect information from smartphones and similar devices.
Simon Whitburn said that the RMP used to deal with cases by dedicating a computer to each one. This tied up both the machines and the operators, limiting the number of jobs which could be running in parallel and running the risk of a failure mid-process which would require the whole job to be started again. The new technology allows many jobs to be run in parallel, and the system will pick up where it left off there is a failure.
I did not press Simon Whitburn for details of the kinds of investigations which are undertaken by the RMP, and he would not have told me if I had. Much of it, I imagine, is very similar to the work of any other civilian police force. It has the added dimension, however, that the data may sit in any part of the world, including places where it is thought prestigious to own multiple phones. This also raises the problems of several languages and diverse operating systems and phone chipsets, particularly in China.
There is a reputational point here, Simon and said, as well as a practical one. The faster a case can pass from ingestion and processing through to early data assessment, the faster a police force can find the information which incriminates or clears a suspect. That avoids the kind of flak which some British police forces have been getting in the press, who have no way of knowing what is holding things up.
Unlike the spurious statistics used by the Ministry of Justice in support of its contentious legal aid and other proposals, the value of technology like this has hard economic facts behind it. Investigating officers can manage more cases and, as everyone collects more data and in increasingly diverse forms and sources, investment in this kind of technology does more than merely keep up with the volumes.
It should not be difficult to make the case for this kind of investment – past metrics will show how many officers spend how many months dealing with how many cases, and the cost of that can be calculated. That sets the baseline against which the outlay on hardware and software can be calculated. We can expect to hear of more police forces going down this route as cost and reputional pressures combine to highlight the need for faster turn-around times.