Video Forensics: Post 1


In this post, Pallavi Paul, one of the researchers who received the Social Media Research grant for 2015, introduces her proposed work.

The conception of the ‘human trace’ has acquired several dimensions in the digital moment. We find ourselves surrounded not only by many kinds of images of the body but also new kinds of bodies themselves. From artist Neil Harbisson who acquired cyborg-like status by surgically implanting an internet enabled antenna in his skull , to the ‘BioDigital Human’ a virtual 3D body that animates “thousands of medically accurate anatomy objects and health conditions in an interactive web based platform” – these immanent bodies pose challenging questions to the contemporary as they become entwined in questions of legality, consumerism, ethics, surveillance and security. Further, the project of mining these traces across a spectrum of practices becomes a method for opening out the contemporary and its possible implications.

My project will stage the idea of the digital trace in the context of crime and forensics. I will be looking specifically at the ways in which the forensic practices of audio and video lend a specific charge to the notions of time, spatiality, evidence, animate and inanimate life. Audio and video recordings are markedly different from other forms of forensic evidence as they deal with ‘real time’ and claim to sequentially capture what transpired on the scene of crime. Therefore, once authenticated, the video/ audio recording can recreate with a greater degree of certainty the role of and interaction between human bodies, objects, spaces and passage of time in any given event. Through the project I would like to engage with these processes of authentication, as a way of encountering this practice. In his work on digital video forensics Weihong Wang notes that video has “naturally occurring properties” which when disturbed by tampering can be quantified, measured and used to “expose video fakes” . While Wang develops on the ways in which tampering with the video signal can be identified via video forensics, the National Forensic Science Technology Centre’s (USA) manual for digital forensics details “ evidence enhancement” i.e. the application of filters, colour correctors, image resizing and cropping, as an important aspect of forensically rendering video images . I will attempt to narrativize the gamut of practices which underline the field and produce a range of relationships between the video image and its afterlife.

A possible site of my enquiries is the Central Forensic Science Laboratory(CFSL), New Delhi. Established in 1968 by the Ministry of Home Affairs, the services of the CFSL are used by the Delhi Police as well as the Central Bureau of Investigation. CFSL experts are summoned for appearing before courts and investigating agencies to inspect scenes of crime The CFSL is organised around biology, serology, physics, chemical, ballistics, lie detection divisions. Each department has to continuously consult the others as several objects need to be looked at by all departments at once- for example blood stained clothes would need to be examined by biology, serology, fingerprint, chemistry and the physics divisions in order to determine the presence of blood, fingerprints, human tissues, remains of paints, glass, metal etcetera. For this project I would like to specifically look at Photo and Scientific Aids Department of the CFSL. This department looks at the photography and videography of the scene of crime and crime related objects, alongside this it also undertakes special photography involving UV, IR and visible radiations emanating from all seized crime exhibits. Oblique light photography is also used by the forensic photography unit to decipher indented writings or marks on surfaces. Reconstructing damaged photographs, microphotography of documents, finger prints, human remains, tapping phone calls and converting it to high quality audio are some of the ways in which the secret lives of objects, are animated by this division.

I borrow from Eyal Weizmann and Thomas Keenan’s hugely influential conception of Forensic Aesthetics. In their jointly authored book Weizmann and Keenan point out that in the light of trials against holocaust crimes, the 20th century has been designated as the “era of the witness”. Further, science and technology has played a major role in authenticating testimonies and narrativizing that which the human witness is unable to do. Forensics then, moves from being simply a mode of diagnostics into the “rhetoric of persuasion” . It’s aesthetic dimension i.e. not only the material, but the ways in which it is presented and interpreted, becomes the very site on which its political and ethical implications play themselves out. To try and identify the junctures at which the speech of objects acquires a political charge. Taking from this my interest is not only limited to the material aesthetics of these processes and objects. The attempt would be to mobilize the thickness of these textures in order to understand the ways in which they are interpreted, presented and mediated outside the laboratory.

To take an example of the ways in which materiality and theatrics of delivery coalesce around the creation of evidence, I turn to Chapter 27 of the CBI manual of guidelines prescribed by the CFSL to investigating officers delineates some of the following guidelines for sound recording and evaluation:

(1) A high-quality apparatus (High frequency & high intensity) may be used for recording. Mini cassettes are not suitable and, hence, not recommended. A recorder with two track technique and having ‘Auto level control’ should be preferred.
(2) Fresh chromium Oxide Cassette Tape(C-60) should be used. Cassettes C-90 or C-120 should not be used.
(3) As far as possible, the tape recorders be operated on 220 volts A.C. In other cases, new batteries are to be used for each recording.
(4) The recording should be made with a steady speed of not less than 4.75 cm/sec. though 9.95 cm/sec. speed would be preferred.

As further advice to the investigating officer the manual suggests

(8) In the event of a suspect disguising his voice, the I.O should ask for the repetition of disguised words until he feels satisfied that the suspect is speaking in the same way as in the questioned voice.

It becomes interesting to note here that it is the materiality and physical attributes of the sound recording device, which produces the conditions for the creation of ‘evidence’. The testimony, irrespective of how potent it is, if not caught on C-60 tapes moving at the speed of 9.95 cm/sec at 220 volts, will be unable to create any impact in the judicial process. Further the question of concealment of facts and identity, too gets framed in a technological language. A misrepresented event or garbled testimony is no longer a narrative maneuver, it is a ‘bad’ or ‘inconsistent’ signal that can be easily detected and hence the officers are advised by forensic experts to get repetitions of these attempts on tape, so that the extent of the departure form the assumed facts can be computed. It must be stressed here that in doing this the inanimate object or the recorder moves from being just a repository of testimony to having a distinct utterance of its own. It speaks with a definitive timbre and pitch, even as the human witnesses struggles for words.

Another site that would be of interest to me will be private forensic labs such as ‘Truth Labs’ . Established in 2007, these not for profit labs are regularly contacted by government forensic agencies to clear pending backlog of cases. Spread across Mumbai, Hyderabad, Delhi Bangalore, Pune etcetera the experts from private forensic labs are authorized and regularly called upon for testimony in the criminal justice system. Equipped with the same divisions as the CFSL these private labs allow people to access evidence networks outside the police and judicial systems.

As part of my fieldwork I will be conducting interviews with forensic practioners, looking in detail at descriptions of techniques and equipment housed by these laboratories and retrieving discussions on forensics in news and social media. I will be accessing the library of the Forensic Science Laboratory supported by the Government of Delhi which claims to house nearly 1400 documents on cases handled by them, catalogued on the Online Public Access Catalogue. I will also look at filing RTIs with CFSL for specific information on matters of interest, including files that concern cases that are no longer subjudice. Finally, I aim to create a map of procedures, methodologies, interpretative mechanisms, networked locations in order to understand the discursive possibilities of video forensics.

Notes


[1] Jeffries, Stuart. ‘Neil Harbisson: The World’s First Cyborg Artist’. the Guardian. N.p., 2014. Web. 12 Apr. 2015.

[2] Human.biodigital.com,. ‘Biodigital Human: Anatomy And Health Conditions In Interactive 3D’. N.p., 2015. Web. 12 Apr. 2015.

[3] Wang, W. (2009). Digital Video Forensics. Ph.D. Dartmouth College. Retrieved from http://www.cs.dartmouth.edu/farid/downloads/publications/wwthesis09.pdf

[4] National Forensic Science Technology Centre, USA (2009). A Simplified Guide to Audio and Video Forensic Analysis. [online] Retrieved from: http://www.crime-scene-investigator.net/SimplifiedGuideAudioVideo.pdf
[Accessed 28 May 2015].

[5] Forensic Architecture, (2011). Forensic Aesthetics – Forensic Architecture. [online] Available at: http://www.forensic-architecture.org/seminar/forensic-aesthetics/ [Accessed 28 May 2015].

[6] Weizman, Eyal. ‘Forensis: Introduction’. Forensis: The Architecture Of Public Truth. 1st ed. Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2014. 9-32. Print.

[7] Crime Manual. 1st ed. New Delhi: Government of India, 2015. Web. 12 Apr. 2015.

[8] Kumar, Vinay. ‘Now, A Forensic Lab For Common Citizens’. The Hindu 2009. Web. 12 Apr. 2015.

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Published on: June 5, 2015


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