Public confidence in the US law enforcement agencies is at an all-time low. A Washington Post poll result reveals only 39% of those surveyed have confidence in the police.
What could be the reason for such a huge decline in public confidence in the past few years? The answer is transparency.
With the emergence of digitization and the rise in crimes, there could only be one result – a rise in digital evidence. Ensuring transparency in digital evidence and sharing it with prosecutors and the public sounds simple, but without the right digital evidence management system at your disposal, this can turn out to be a tedious task.
In this blog, we will discuss how criminal justice agencies can maintain transparency in digital evidence management and how the right software can help them achieve this.
The Transparency Challenge in Law Enforcement
Several years ago, the US Government mandated body-worn cameras (BWCs). The reason? To ensure transparency and restore public trust in law enforcement.
While the goal seems far-fetched to achieve, this move resulted in the mass adoption of bodycams by police departments nationwide. Ultimately, the amount of digital evidence increased exponentially.
The end result? A new challenge for law enforcement was ensuring transparency in digital evidence management.
Why is Transparency in Digital Evidence Management Important?
Ensuring transparency in managing digital evidence has become increasingly important today for law enforcement. The gulf between the police and the public is widening, and ensuring digital evidence management transparency is one of the most effective ways to bridge the trust gap.
Not only this, but failing to ensure transparency in digital evidence management can land the law enforcement personnel in hot waters. For instance, the fabrication of evidence by the police constitutes police misconduct and is a punishable offense.
According to the Minnesota State Bar Association:
“Tampering with evidence is bad enough when it’s civilians, but when it’s one of the law enforcement officers involved with intentional interference with an investigation, it is a serious criminal offense.”
Ensuring Transparency in Digital Evidence Management
Because of the high importance of transparency in digital evidence management, it becomes imperative for law enforcement agencies to adhere to the best practices for ensuring transparency in managing digital evidence.
How can we ensure transparency in digital evidence management? We can take the following measures for transparent digital evidence management:
Restrict evidence access
You don’t want the precious digital evidence to fall into the wrong hands, right?
To ensure that no unauthorized, malicious actors get near the digital evidence, law enforcement agencies should restrict access to digital evidence. This way, only personnel and stakeholders with the right privileges can perform actions related to the digital evidence.
Verify evidence for tampering
Verifying the digital evidence for possible tampering is significant to ensuring transparency in digital evidence management. You might ask how?
Well, there are two reasons. Firstly, it is essential for the digital evidence to be tamper-proof to make it admissible in court. Secondly, it eliminates the chances of suspicions being raised by the jury on the law enforcement fabricating the evidence.
Enable secure evidence-sharing
Law enforcement agencies desperately need cooperation with external agencies in a secure manner. Police officers, on a day-to-day basis, need to collaborate with extrinsic agencies to investigate crimes. In the case of joint investigations between two or more partner agencies, evidence sharing is critical. It is necessary to share and work on evidence collectively to tackle this.
Ensure cross-border agency collaboration
Many a time, law enforcement agencies need to tackle international crime scenes. There has been a great increase in cross-border crimes. A New York Times publication revealed there were a record 91,000 illegal immigrations in August alone. In such cases, the cross-border collaboration of digital evidence is crucial, and a digital evidence management system that aids in sharing and copying digital evidence with agencies in other countries is the way to go.
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Importance of Transparency to Prosecution
Prosecutors are the “gatekeepers” of criminal justice. For evidence to be accepted in court, prosecutors and legal defendants should prove its integrity. This is achievable through a comprehensive chain of custody, or if you may call it, audit trials. Theoretically, “chain of custody” is the sequential documentation of a series of events happening on the digital evidence from its collection, storage, analysis, and transfer until court trial and finally closure.
Chain of custody ensures the preservation of evidence integrity and that the evidence remains unaltered, uncontaminated, and tamper-proof. This helps protect against legal hiccups, such as claims of evidence mishandling or tampering.
Importance of Transparency to the Public
The public is the biggest stakeholder in every state. In a time where public confidence in the law enforcement industry is at an all-time low, it is particularly important to maintain transparency relating to digital evidence with the public. Releasing digital evidence to the public helps ensure accountability, preserve trust in institutions, and prevent misuse of power.
A principal factor to consider when releasing evidence to the public is redaction. A lot of digital evidence contains Personally Identifiable Information (PII) that needs to be hidden before being shown to the public.
Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)
In the United States, in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act, the public can demand federal agency records. This also applies to law enforcement agencies, and they might have to disclose digital evidence to the public, redacting out sensitive information, such as faces, bodies, license plates, vehicles and weapons.
VIDIZMO for Law Enforcement
Why do law enforcement agencies prefer the VIDIZMO Digital Evidence Management System (DEMS)?
VIDIZMO DEMS offers a comprehensive solution to law enforcement, prosecutors, and legal defendants alike. With VIDIZMO DEMS, law enforcement professionals, prosecutors, and legal defendants can ensure transparency in managing digital evidence through the following capabilities:
- Tamper detection feature with the CJIS-recommended SHA algorithm at the helm.
- Multiple secure evidence-sharing and access management features, including role-based access control, IP and geo-restrictions, single-sign-on (SSO) support, etc.
- Automatic chain of custody to ensure the integrity of digital evidence.
- In-built redaction for information in videos, audio recordings, images, and documents.
As discussed in this blog, transparency is a major point of concern for law enforcement agencies, prosecution, and the public when handling digital evidence. An incompetent DEMS can make things worse regarding transparency than making it better. A modern DEMS that allows secure evidence sharing, built-in redaction, restricts data access, and provides detailed audit trails is the way to go.
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