South Wales Police announced they were able to access a WhatsApp user's photos through a backdoor, then extract fingerprint data from a picture of a weed dealer's hand to help convict 11 involved people. Read the rest
"The Trouble with Bias," Kate Crawford's (previously) keynote at the 2017 Neural Information Processing Systems is a brilliant tour through different ways of thinking about what bias is, and when we should worry about it, specifically in the context of machine learning systems and algorithmic decision making -- the best part is at the end, where she describes what we should do about this stuff, and where to get started. (via 4 Short Links) Read the rest
Trish Vickers of Dorset, England, decided to write a novel. Though blind, she preferred to work the old-fashioned way, with pen and paper, with her son dropping in weekly to type up the results. On one visit, though, she learned to her horror that her pen had ran out of ink fully 26 pages ago. But all was not lost!
Not knowing what else to do, she and Simon called the police. To the Vickers’s surprise, officers at Dorset HQ volunteered to work during their breaks and free time, hoping to use their forensic tools to help. And, five months later, the police reported back with success: they recovered the never-written words. Vickers told a local newspaper that the pen she used to write the pages — even though there was no ink left in it — left behind a series of indentations: “I think they used a combination of various lights at different angles to see if they could get the impression made by my pen.”
In a newly revised paper in Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition, a group of French and Swiss computer science researchers show that "a very small perturbation vector that causes natural images to be misclassified with high probability" -- that is, a minor image transformation can beat machine learning systems nearly every time. Read the rest
Texas State University's Body Farm (AKA Forensic Anthropology Center at Texas State University or FACTS) is a 45-year-old facility where the corpses of medical body donors are left to decompose so that researchers can observe the rate at which human remains are consumed by the elements, scavengers and microbes, allowing them to accurately date the bodies of murder victims and those who died accidentally. Read the rest
The Signal Sidearm is a sensor designed to be fitted to a police pistol holster: when triggered, it wirelessly signals all nearby police bodycams to go into record-and-archive mode. It's made by Axon, the bodycam division of Taser International. Read the rest
As the FBI announced that it had reviewed the emails on Anthony Weiner's laptop and determined that there was no incriminating material about Hillary Clinton on them, the Trump campaign roared with incredulity, insisting that it was inconceivable that the FBI could have vetted 800,000 emails in 8 days. Read the rest
Could you recover a murder victim's last sight of their killer by extracting it from the retina? Little more than a century ago, forensic scientists thought it might be possible. After all, in 1877 physiologist Wilhelm Friedrich Kühne was able to develop a simple image from an albino rabbit's dissected eyeball. (Above, the two images on the right come from rabbits who stared at two different windows. The left shows just nerves and blood vessels.) From Smithsonian:
The College of Optometrists in the U.K. reports that police photographed the eye of a murdered man in April 1877, "only partly aware of what optography involved," and that investigators on the trail of Jack the Ripper may have considered a proposal to use the technique.
Faith in optography was misplaced, however, as Kühne's experiments showed that only simple, high-contrast surroundings were able to produce interpretable optograms, Douglas J. Lanska writes in Progress in Brain Research. Furthermore, the retina needs to be removed very quickly from the recently deceased.
In 1957, Maria Ridulph disappeared from a street corner in her Illinois hometown. She was later found dead — stabbed, stripped, and left under a log miles away. In 2012, a man went to prison for her murder. CNN has a long and well-put-together story about how this killing was solved after so many decades, and the questions people are asking about facts and scenarios that still don't quite add up. Read the rest
In 1964, a baby was stolen from a Chicago hospital. The FBI later determined that a baby, found in New Jersey, was the missing boy and gave him back to his parents. Now, DNA evidence shows that the man raised as Paul Fronczak isn't actually the same person as the kidnapped baby called Paul Fronczak. It's a heartbreaking story for Fronczak and his family, with some important lessons about the history and future of forensics. Read the rest
Behind the unveiling of J.K. Rowling as the author of a pseudonymously published detective novel lies a messy and not-terribly-precise science called "forensic stylistics". Using specially designed software — or, less often, just a trained eye — experts in the field try to match writing styles and discern the true authorship of disputed texts. But, even when they turn out to be right, as in the Rowling case, their findings are less than exact. Linguist Ben Zimmer explores the field and its usefulness at The Wall Street Journal. Read the rest
At the New Yorker, Paige Williams visits forensic chemist Adam B. Hall to talk about the surprising things you can learn about bombs and their makers by looking at the effects they produce — from the type and color of the smoke, to the smell that lingers in the air, to what the "boom" sounds like. I'd take Hall's speculation about the Boston Marathon bombings with a grain of salt (he's making his judgements from low-grade video and isn't part of the investigation), but the process he describes is absolutely fascinating. Read the rest
Come on. It's for science.
In fact, it's meant to help people.
Researchers at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada, put a dead pig in a shark-proof (and octopus-proof, as you'll see) cage and stuck it in the ocean in order to learn more about how human remains decompose underwater. That knowledge will help forensic scientists interpret crime scenes.
Most of the work is done by maggots known as sea lice, but towards the end, after the maggots have eaten the good bits, you can watch some fat, red shrimp move in to pick apart the cartilage.
Via Deep Sea News
In 2009, the National Academies of Science published a massive report on forensics. For many Americans, forensics is possibly the most familiar of all the sciences. It's the one we welcome into our living rooms every night, along with TV crime dramas and murder mysteries. But the report's conclusions might surprise you.
For one thing, it's hard to even generalize about the state of forensic science in the United States, because everything from standard practices to accreditation varies widely by sub-discipline, law-enforcement agency, and whether the law enforcement is happening at a local, state, or federal level. Worse, it's not at all clear that some of those sub-disciplines have a sound, scientific basis. For instance, DNA analysis tends to be pretty well-supported by evidence, while fingerprint analysis remains an art, more dependent on the person looking at the fingerprint than on hard laws of anatomy. Of course, the report also found that there simply hasn't been enough research done to determine how scientific most disciplines of forensic science are to begin with. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has allowed trial judges to certify forensic techniques as reliable even though we don't know whether they they are or not — and those decisions have been made in a haphazard, inconsistent way from one judge to the next.
Given how much our legal system relies on this stuff, we should all be feeling more than a little uncomfortable right about now. The state of forensic science, combined with its importance, virtually guarantees that there are innocent people behind bars (or worse) and criminals on the loose. Read the rest
Found by Vermont teacher Jon Noerr in a creek near Pharaoh Lake, a muddy Canon XT Rebel had clearly taken its last shot. But the memory card was ship-shape, and its contents made it possible to track owner Michael Comeau down and give him back his long-lost photos.
The memory card’s contents contained a hodgepodge of urban streetscapes, photos of apparent loved ones and random signs. He noticed most of the photos appeared to be in one general area, which he believed to be in one of New York City’s outer boroughs. ... But just two photos served as Noerr’s “holy grail,” a shot of a young woman sitting on a front stoop of a house numbered 327 and a shot taken seconds later of the sky that captured a street sign reading 3rd Street.
"I think I found your camera": Visual clues help man solve mystery [PostStar.com. Photo: John Noerr] Read the rest