Digital forensics have reshaped the criminal justice system, with 90% of all crimes now involving some degree of digital evidence. As a result, the processing capabilities of the UK’s Digital Forensic Units (DFUs) are directly linked to the swift delivery of justice. Digital devices can be treasure troves for the police who can follow virtual trails, unearth deleted files, and dissect encrypted messages. Ultimately, this digital evidence can decide the outcome of a case.
However, effective and timely implementation of digital evidence relies upon the availability of data processing power in DFUs. At present, these units are regularly hindered by delays and inefficiencies due to the lack of investment in technical development in the public sector. These legacy systems not only leave DFUs behind the curve of technological change but also hamper their operational efficiency which can cause distress to those involved in the cases, including victims of crimes and individuals who may have been wrongly convicted.
Increasing pressure on an overburdened force
With more and more devices constantly coming online, there is an increasing demand to address the inefficiencies associated with the processing of digital forensics. The UK’s DFU’s current backlog of cases is estimated to be at least two to three years overdue, with more than 25,000 devices awaiting examination. The continuous expansion of data means that, compared to five years ago when a single case involved around 500 gigabytes of data, today the average volume for a computer case stands at 2 terabytes, with some instances even reaching 60 or 70 terabytes. Clearly, DFUs are facing huge pressure to support a police force that is constantly accumulating more digital evidence.
As part of the , the UK Government passed a new law stating that no victim would be without their devices for more than 24 hours by the end of March 2023. This goal seems unlikely to be properly implemented by the already overburdened police force without a substantial overhaul of the existing technology system.
DFUs tend to be isolated from the broader network, representing a niche technical field within law enforcement. They operate within a close local area network (LAN) structure to ensure the sensitive content that they analyse is kept private and secure. So, to implement the required improvements to systems and meet the ever-increasing demand, decision-makers must first have a comprehensive understanding of DFUs’ digital infrastructure, software, and IT systems. Once this has been mapped, attention can then turn to standardisation.
The key to unlocking standardisation lies in transitioning from siloed data to a ‘conveyor belt’ system. This transformation will allow DFUs to streamline data processing into manageable steps that can be competently handled by lower-skilled technicians. This involves integrating advanced tools such as intelligent data analytics, visualisation techniques, superior cloud-based solutions, and artificial intelligence. For example, the process of data acquisition can be broken down into a series of simple steps involving device connection, method adherence, and output delivery. Through this structured approach, DFUs can ensure a reputable output that is easily verified, validated, and automated.
Achieving such transformative changes requires the expertise of a dedicated digital transformation team, working to stabilise and standardise systems. By developing transformation and workflow programmes that align with the technology roadmaps, this team can gain support from decision-makers within the DFU and from the wider law enforcement agency.
Lock in skilled talent
Undoubtedly, strategic IT management and advanced technological solutions can boost the efficiency of DFUs. With this optimisation of internal systems, costs can be reduced, allowing funds to be reallocated towards improving employee experience. This leads to a better retention of skilled staff members, a key issue for the public sector which often finds its best talent poached by private sector organisations.
Standardising processing across DFUs is not only an achievable objective, but a crucial one. In our modern justice system, digital forensics has a crucial role, and the ever-expanding backlog of cases highlights the pressing need for optimised systems with greater processing power. This increased efficiency will boost DFUs’ ability to contribute to the timely resolution of crimes and help to ensure swifter justice for victims.
Nick Garland is Head of Secure Government at CDW. A a technology-enabled transformation leader; he's is responsible and accountable for the growth and delivery of the business across the UK, leading and developing his teams and their respective areas.