For many decades now the human race has benefitted from the evidentiary value of surveillance videos and audio recordings. Human beings cannot be relied on to give accurate accounts of events that they have witnessed. It is a frustrating fact that eye witness testimony is highly inaccurate. More often than not, people are mistaken in their recollections or they simply fail to tell the truth. But, with some reservations, we have learned to trust our surveillance recordings. Sure, analog videos and audio recordings can be tampered with. But almost universally, analysis of such tampered material exposes the fraud. Not so anymore!
Virtually every camera, video recorder and audio recorder on the planet is now digital. And it is theoretically possible to manipulate or totally forge digital recordings perfectly. Every year now, computer generated images and sounds used in movies are becoming more seamless and convincing. I see no reason at all why we couldn’t make totally realistic-appearing movies that contain not a single human actor or location shot. Just think of it: Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne, in their primes, with their own voices, starring in a brand new western of epic proportions! Awesome! And if Hollywood can do it, you can bet that a lot of other less reputable individuals can do it as well.
So what are we going to do about surveillance recordings (everything from ATMs and convenience store videos to recordings made by the FBI)? We won’t be able to trust that they are real or accurate anymore. Are we going to return to the old days of relying on eye witness testimony and the perceptiveness of juries? Are we going to let even more lying, larcenous and violent offenders off scot free than we are today? I don’t think we as a society will be able to tolerate that. After all, many crimes don’t produce any significant forensic evidence such as finger prints and DNA. Often, video and audio recordings are our only means of identifying the bad guys and what they do.
This means that we are going to have to find ways and means to certify that the digital recordings we make remain unaltered. (Do you see a new service industry in the offing)? The only thing I can think of to solve the problem is a service similar in many ways to the certificate authorities and token providers we use today. Trusted third parties that employ cryptographic techniques and other means to ensure that their equipment and recordings remain pristine.
But that still leaves the problem of the recordings of events that individuals make with their smart phones and camcorders. Can we in all good faith trust that these recordings are any more real than the surveillance recordings we are making today? These, too, are digital recordings and can theoretically be perfectly manipulated. But I can’t see the average Joe going through the hassle and spending the money necessary to certify their private recordings. I can’t see a way out of this part of the problem. Perhaps you can come up with some ideas that would work?
Thanks to John Davis for writing this post.