Sunday, February 13, 2011

Denying allegations

Interesting thoughts from Lawrence on maintaining our reputations in the digital age ...

Trust and reputation are two important aspects of civilization. The former is often influenced by the latter. You would not trust someone who has been charged with fraud or other such crimes. You would not vote for a politician that has been accused of (often sexually) harassing interns. In the last century, we relied on a wide array of evidence to judge whether the individual was guilty or not. Evidence such as video surveillance tapes, phone records, credit card bills and many other things. I listed these forms of evidence because I want to discuss their legitimacy in court in the 21st century.

Technology has a advanced dramatically in the recent years and we have become capable of incredible feats often experienced in movies (i.e. avatar) or less often in the form online theft (by hackers all over the world) draining your bank account.
My worry is that video surveillance and many other things might be easily altered to fit the crime (or not). Thus undermining their validity as evidence in court.
I’ll give you a few illustrations. Facebook accounts can be hacked, therefor the content also, can be altered. Imagine someone ‘unearthing’ incriminating pictures of you on Facebook and consequently, you are arrested and put on trial. You know that the pictures are fake because you never found yourself in the situation depicted on the picture. Of course you don’t, they were photo-shopped by someone who has something to gain by you going to prison. The jury does not believe your account and sends you to prison for whatever you have done (not fair, I know). Replace Facebook in this whole story with other things like credit card bills or phone call records and come to the same conclusion.

The modern court of tomorrow will pick up on these practices and revise their list of approved forms of evidence (excluding things like mentioned above).
Imagine a politician that did sexually harass an intern and it was caught on tape. This politician happened to have many allies and enemies. In court, the politician could clame that the person on the video is not really him, but a virtually rendered version of him by animators and programmers (think about animated movies these days). The court has reason to believe him because he has many enemies who would gain by faking something like this.

Therefore, technology (hacking etc) can render many forms of evidence useless.

My concern is the way we use the internet and how we behave on it. How will we be able to hold each other accountable (online) if all the things we do (good or bad) can be brushed off as conspiracy if someone presses charges?

6 comments:

Mary T. said...

Although this article makes several excellent points, I think the author needs to address the benefits technology has had on criminal justice. Attorneys can prosecute numerous cases, such as kidnappings or tax evasions, thanks to video surveillance, bank records, etc. Without these sources, proving some criminals guilty would be close to impossible. Of course hacking and deception is a threat, but, if used properly, technology is an excellent source of evidence.

Katharina said...

Digital manipulation and hacking is difficult to detect and, without legal countermeasures, can easily threaten our well-being and freedom. Let’s take a closer look at digital photography. Unlike old-fashioned analog photographs, alterations to digital images do not, per se, leave visible traces of manipulation. If someone wants to harm your reputation by posting manipulated (and incriminating) photos of you on Facebook this is easily done. Your friends will be outraged by the fake photos and will probably question your moral character and trustworthiness.

In the past, few courts of law needed to question the authenticity of photographic evidence. However, with the growing use of digital photography and photo-manipulation software, courts now cannot simply assume that “pictures don’t lie”. Federal courts generally regard computer-stored records such as digital images as hearsay evidence, meaning the evidence is either indirect or second-hand. Furthermore, in 2006, the Federal Courts of Civil Procedure were amended to include the implementation of “hashing algorithms” designed to detect alterations in an image and the use of “self-authenticating cameras”. While not necessarily sufficient safeguards, these new amendments help authenticate and validate original digital images.

In order for digital files to continue to count as viable sources of evidence and to successfully investigate computer-related crimes, courts and criminal investigators will have to continuously update their procedures and evolve along, or preferably beyond, the existing available technology.

Katharina said...

Digital manipulation of images and computer software are difficult to detect and, without legal countermeasures, can easily threaten our well-being and our freedom. Let’s take a closer look at digital photography. Unlike old-fashioned analog photographs, alterations to digital images do not, per se, leave visible traces of manipulation. If someone wants to harm your reputation by posting manipulated (and incriminating) photos of you on Facebook this is easily done. Your friends will be outraged by the fake photos and will probably question your moral character and trustworthiness.
In the past, few courts of law needed to question the authenticity of photographic evidence. However, with the growing use of digital photography and photo-manipulation software, courts now cannot simply assume that “pictures don’t lie”. Federal courts generally regard computer-stored records such as digital images as hearsay evidence, meaning the evidence is either indirect or second-hand. Furthermore, in 2006, the Federal Courts of Civil Procedure were amended to include the implementation of “hashing algorithms” designed to detect alterations in an image and the use of “self-authenticating cameras”. While not necessarily sufficient safeguards, these new amendments help authenticate and validate original digital images.
In order for digital files to continue to count as viable sources of evidence and to successfully investigate computer-related crimes, courts and criminal investigators will have to continuously update their procedures and evolve along, or preferably beyond, the existing available technology.

Diana said...

The advancement of technology can be a good thing because it makes life a little easier, but when people are put in situations to defend themselves technology can be bad. I agree that trust and reputation are important aspects of civilization. I just do not like the fact people can get away with crimes they know they did. There is a lot of evidence such as surveillance tapes, phones records and credit cards that can help send someone to jail. Since technology is advancing a lot of people can get around the accusation by stating it is false. This is a very clever thing to tell the judge but if someone is guilty of a crime he or she should be held accountable.

Shelby said...

Seeing as there currently are very few working internet privacy laws, the question of user accountability is valid. Privacy is essentially the ability to control how others use our information and our ability to hold them accountable. Without legal support, this becomes very difficult when the Internet is used as criminal evidence. However, the fact that the Constitution establishes a right to privacy via the first, third,fourth, fifth, ninth, and even fourteenth amendment provides to me a compelling reason for policy makers to legally address this impending problem of accountability. I do not know the exact answer of how this should be done, but I do feel that something more should be done. Especially when people's lives are at stake in the court of law. By not clearly defining these internet limits, we run a risk of breaching the very values that our nation was founded upon.

Shelby said...

Perhaps a universal framework policy that would allow citizens the mechanism to correct inaccurate data found online about themselves would be a good place to start.