Expertise vs. common sense

Posted on January 23, 2011. Filed under: forensic | Tags: , , , , , |

My attention has been drawn to http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2011/01/morphed-child-porn/ in which it is reported that a professional expert witness deliberately produced manipulated images as part of a defence case.

What he chose to do was to buy pictures of children from a stock photo library and then alter them to show the children engaging in sexual activity. In one case, it seems, it would have been fairly obvious that the image was fake as the child’s head had been placed onto an adult body.

However – I am left with one fundamental question – “what on earth was he thinking ? ”

There is absolutely no need to produce the sort of pseudo-image that is described in the article in order to show how easily digital images can be manipulated. Why could he not have carried out the same sort of manipulation using innocent imagery, or at least images of adults ? Does this expert really think the jury are so unintelligent that they cannot see the connection between his examples and what might happen in reality ?

More worryingly – why are so few of the comments associated with this article concerned with the fact that he produced offensive and obscene images (illegal in several countries) and more concerned with breach of licensing agreements ?

Maybe we need to start carrying out more certification of expert witnesses – beyond concepts of competence and into the realms of professionalism and ethics ?

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4 Responses to “Expertise vs. common sense”

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[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Eric FREYSSINET, Angus Marshall. Angus Marshall said: Expertise vs. common sense: http://wp.me/pEuy4-1H […]

Y’know, I remember several things that have stuck in my mind from my time as a post-grad student – several analogies, examples, pieces of advice, etc.

“manipulation of images is bad – enhancing to bring out relevant details – details *already present in the image* – is good.” I mean if there was, I don’t know, a hit and run in which a pedestrian was killed, there’d be huge moral and legal issues for the prosecution to ‘re-stage’ the incident on video for a jury, based upon what the feel *could* have happened, when in this video, they show a blatantly homicidal driver swerving all over the road before deliberately aiming for the pedestrian, in all of it’s gory glory (sorry, I have the Mr. Burns running over Bart Simpsons episode in my mind!). I’m sure the jury knows what the incident may have looked like, and it’s not right for an ‘expert witness’ to deliberately play on the emotions of a jury – they are there to present and give their expert opinion on the evidence only, not to deliberately try and envoke an emotional response (a response evidently inline with *their* feelings) in a jury.

I also recall a story (though facts may vary) of a particular expert witness whom had (as one may assume that they should as part of their role in the case) reviewed images / video footage of children in an obscene situation, and the defence arguing that by the expert witness viewing the images/video they are committing the crime, too. It seems easy to see how ridiculous this argument is since it is the duty of the expert witness to review the evidence and report upon this. However compare this with the incident in question and one can argue that it is not the duty of the expert witness to manipulate or produce ‘evidence’ to simply make a point. I’m sure I recall cases in which people have been prosecuted for producing child pornography simply by placing a child’s head on an adult’s body since, the aim of this is to *imply* that the image is a child engaging in pornographic activity – the intention is there.

Finally, I recall being told that, essentially, anyone could act as an expert witness in court. This I don’t agree with – there should be protocols and governing standards in place. Particularly with regard to ethics. On the plus side, at least this expert witness wasn’t trying to demonstrate how a death could have been an accident by staging one himself…

This is quite a shocking article. I totally agree, what on earth was the guy thinking?! Manipulating innocent images….into something else maybe….but using children?!Has he never heard of the COPINE scale or understand that child pornographic images doctored or not are wrong. He could have proved his point any other way. Even more worrying was how long it took him to come to the conclusion that it would be a great idea.
Did he not think about what he was doing or the evident repercussions of his actions?! This is an ‘expert witness’.
No wonder more and more people are been found NOT GUILTY

I’m not sure that COPINE is directly relevant in this case. The issue is more that an alleged expert considered it appropriate to produce pseudo-images to support the defence case that the images held by the accused could be fakes rather than direct evidence of abuse. Two issues in that one for me :

a) lack of on the part of the expert – there are plenty of ways to show how images can be faked without resorting to producing offensive images
b) legislative problems – it seems the only way that the actions can be tackled are through civil litigation for breach of contract – i.e. seeking redress because he used the images in way which fell outside the terms of his licence from the stock photo site.


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    This is the weblog of Angus M. Marshall, forensic scientist, author of Digital Forensics : digital evidence in criminal investigations and MD at n-gate ltd.

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