Guest Article

Digital Forensics, a Gamechanger in Crime Prosecution

Harsh Behl, Director of Product Management, Exterro

Evidence — the life blood of any investigation, be it civil or criminal, is most often what investigators look for and what solidifies the prosecution’s case. As much as the courts in India have repeatedly reiterated the need for forensic evidence, India is slow in its adoption. Consider this: In 2020, India registered a total of 9,36,227 crimes under the Indian Penal Code out of which 5,45,864 — that is 58% of the crimes were disposed of by the police before a charge sheet was filed. This was due to lack of material witnesses and forensic evidence. Out of the 3,03,422 cases that were chargesheeted, only 32.3% led to convictions. What’s more surprising is that the conviction rate fell in 2020 compared to 2019 where it stood at 42%.

The writing is on the wall: without conclusive forensic evidence, prosecuting crimes can be a herculean task. And the courts in India are clear on it considering the numerous times it has pulled up forensic agencies and law enforcement for not gathering adequate evidence. In a digital-first world, where technology plays a major role in daily life, digital forensics can open the door to more accurate evidence gathering, and better aid law enforcement agencies in the course of an investigation. Better yet, they can have a major bearing on helping prosecute crimes in India.

In 2010, the Supreme Court observed that new techniques and devices are the order of the day and it would be wrong to deny to the law of evidence the advantages to be gained by new techniques and new devices. Similarly, in 2019, the Madhya Pradesh High Court observed: “Forensic science does not only mean DNA reports or Blood Sampling or PSL report as it goes beyond and if we wish to march with time, then we should have to be well equipped with technologies. When artificial intelligence, robotics, and drone technologies are knocking at the doors then policymakers or stakeholders cannot place rule of law or adjudication process at the mercy of archaic methods of investigation and prosecution. Police investigation and prosecution in courts cannot lie at the altar of the statement of witnesses alone but it should be based upon a scientific way of investigation and police officers, public prosecutors and trial judges ought to be well equipped with the subjects and tools of forensic sciences.”

Digital Forensics Can Help Manage Case Backlogs

Investigations are multiplying and diversifying–there are more of them, and new types of cases arise all the time. Considering the increasing number of crimes in the country, it is creating backlogs in cases that need investigation and even if the police find necessary evidence, the massive backlogs in forensic labs are making it harder to get the necessary convictions. In 2020, over 800,000 cases were still pending for analysis across forensic science labs in the country. This is because forensics professionals are confronting much larger data loads, with new, complex information types tapped from a growing diversity of sources. As volumes and complexity increase, meeting deadlines and reaching beneficial outcomes becomes more difficult.

This means that existing forensic tools and technologies can’t always provide the kind of performance needed to keep up with the growing investigation load, and can’t accommodate the changing nature of how investigations must be managed. What the law enforcement needs is a new solution that is more powerful and flexible that can handle big, diverse data loads faster than existing platforms. Investigators need better indexing, higher scalability and agile collection capabilities. More than anything, today’s solutions need to be smarter considering how technology rules every day of our lives.

Law enforcement agencies in India require digital forensics solutions that aid their investigators in collaborating in real time and from any location to work more efficiently. With increased access to AI capabilities, greater collaboration and faster processing, law enforcement could help cover some of the manpower gaps and help them catch up. Digital forensic tools can help carry out investigations in smarter, faster ways — while maintaining data security and integrity, ensuring their admissibility in courts.

Siloed Positions Hamper Investigations — Digital Forensics Enables Collaboration

It’s commonly agreed among law enforcement personnel that there is a digital element to any investigation. One of the major issues that has arisen as a result of data volume increase is increased isolation of some team members, rather than increased collaboration. Separate workflows, tasks, and requirements—along with larger and larger datasets—mean that some investigators don’t have the time to share insights, theories and other discoveries, which inadvertently prolong investigation.

Digital forensic technologies allow first pass analysis enabling the investigator to either get the evidence they need and end the analysis, or further refine the investigation, saving time. Without this collaboration, law enforcement will lose valuable time processing all of the data when it’s not needed. Digital forensic tools also ensure that critical communication or context don’t go missing during investigations. New digital forensics products that allow officers to start a review of their own evidence and collaborate with one another to give lead investigators a head start will lead the technology market because it will tackle a major pain point and offer a more complete look at cases.

New Devices and New Types of Data Call for Stronger Digital Evidence

New technology will never go away as innovation is a constant. But for digital forensic investigators, this new technology and subsequent data types can throw a kink into otherwise smooth processes. Law enforcement and digital forensics teams must be able to parse those new data types so they can be reviewed and analyzed, and ideally produced in their native formats, so that the prosecution can ensure its admissibility in a court of law.

Law enforcement agencies have been struggling to perform forensic investigations of datasets containing file systems that are encrypted, compressed or deleted. Enabling investigators to collect, process and analyze this data will ensure that the investigations are not halted due to lack of evidence. A comprehensive technology is absolutely critical to tackling today’s criminal efforts, and the enhanced functionality of some technologies will help them conduct faster and more complete digital forensics investigations.

Digital investigation tools built to help zero in on relevant evidence faster, conduct faster searches and dramatically increase analysis speed with a unified database can go a long way.

Given the drastically low rates of conviction and high instances of case disposal due to lack of evidence, it is quite apparent that there is an urgent need for capacity building of forensics in the country. In India if early effective justice is to be provided, especially in a reality where eyewitnesses turn hostile in the court of law, the criminal justice system can mainly depend upon the forensic evidence. Currently, admissibility of forensic evidence is heavily reliant on the authenticity of the electronic evidence. Digital forensic tools can drastically increase the capacity of law enforcement and thereby aid prosecutors deliver air-tight evidence.

By Harsh Behl, Director of Product Management, Exterro

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