If you are shooting crime and accident scenes with digital cameras and haven't run into a legal challenge yet, it's probably only a matter of time until your local defense attorneys get more aggressive about questioning your evidentiary images.
Film cameras chemically record images on film stock. Altering these images requires a darkroom and darkroom skills. And unless the work is done by someone with an excellent background in photo manipulation, any alterations can easily be detected by an expert.
In contrast, digital cameras capture images as bits of data on magnetic media. Anyone can import that data into a computer and, with a $50 piece of software, he or she can alter an image in such a way that the naked eye cannot tell the difference. This makes it easy for defense attorneys to challenge the veracity of evidentiary photos captured with digital cameras.
What's needed to make digital images of evidence more viable in the courtroom is a way to determine if they have been changed. And Santa Clara, Calif.-based Kwan Software Engineering (KSE) believes its VeriPic Digital Photo Lab application is the solution to this problem.
In simple terms, here's how KSE's technology works. VeriPic calculates special photographic parameters when the picture is originally imported from the camera or the memory card. If these parameters change any time after the original time-stamped importation, then authentication cannot be verified. In other words, somebody has altered some of the digital ones and zeros, manipulating them to his or her advantage.
To authenticate an image, VeriPic starts at the source, the digital camera itself. A digital camera is really just a small computer with a memory card. Each has measurable methods for storing images. VeriPic has tested and certified many digital camera models already used by law enforcement, and it maintains a list of the certified cameras on its Website. And if you want to use VeriPic and your camera is not on the list, just loan it to VeriPic for a couple of weeks and the company's technicians will certify it.
Not only does VeriPic give you a way to combat arguments that you have tampered with digital images of crime and accident scenes, one version of the software also helps you organize your images.
I don't know about you, but on my home PC I have photos stored in different folders all over my hard drive. VeriPic solves this problem by allowing you to tie the photos you're importing to a case or file number associated with your investigation.
Let's take a look at how VeriPic works in a police environment.
You've finished taking pictures at the scene, and now you need to import them into your computer. After putting the camera's memory card into the reader, you click on "Import Photos" and select from the "Add New Case" or "Select Existing Case" buttons.
VeriPic will now ask you some basic questions in the familiar dialog box format. First you select the type of import: "authenticate and secure" for the pictures you're going to import or "secure only" for non-certified cameras or scanned images that cannot be authenticated but should be stored in the VeriPic database.