With their trusty sidekick in tow and intuition, Sherlock Holmes or Inspector Morse might narrow down the killer, but law enforcement agencies need more than intuition to put a criminal behind bars. From smart watches to Fitbit bands, from pacemakers to Amazon Echoes, from CCTVs to DNA scanners and coffee-makers, detectives across the world are relying more and more on hi-tech gadgets to outsmart criminals.
App the ante
In December 2019, the Dubai police used DNA technology to crack the rape and murder case of a woman that had been unsolved since 2011 for lack of evidence. The technology helped them identify the attacker through his brother who had a felony case against him.
The detectives used a whole bouquet of forensic technology to crack the case. These included evidence analysis, fingerprints, DNA identification, chemical analysis of hair, and body fluids. “The increasing use of DNA and genetic genealogy has given new momentum to solving cold cases,” says Mukesh Choudhary, CEO of Cyberops Infosec.
However, he adds, “Even the most modern technology will never lead to a detection rate of 100 per cent but we can see how DNA testing is helping solve crimes.”
Today, thousands of rape and murder convicts are seeking re-examination via DNA technology to prove their innocence. “However, each case goes through perennial bureaucratic procedures although the cost of a DNA test is a mere $15 and the whole process takes less than a minute,” Choudhury adds.
Smart devices like voice-assisted speakers too can be important tools for the detective. They listen out for so-called wake words — like “OK Google” for Google Home, or “Alexa!” on an Amazon device, or 'Hey Siri' on Apple. Tech savvy investigating officers are trained to look for smart home devices that could hold clues to a crime.
In the double murder of two women in New Hampshire, USA in January 2017, Amazon Echo was used as a 'witness'. The speaker of the device was seized where two women were killed in January 2017. "Alexa was in the kitchen where the corpses were found. The judge decided to transfer the voice assistant records to the investigation as evidence. The police also asked for audio from paired devices, including smart phones,” says Mukesh Choudhary.
In the Jamal Khashoggi case too, tech provided decisive evidence. The journalist had turned on his Apple Watch's recording before entering the Saudi consulate. The circumstances of his interrogation, torture and killing got sent to his iPhone, which he had left with his fiancée outside the consulate, and to iCloud. “While there is some debate about when and how smartphone tracking should be utilised by law enforcement, the ability to track a criminal via smartphones is an incredible advancement in technology. It gives investigators a clear picture of a suspect’s movements before, during, and after the crime,” says Sandeep Mudalkar, CEO of Sytech Ltd and a cyber crime investigator-cum-trainer.
In another case in Rajasthan, police used simple cloud synchronisation to nab a group of men involved in a rape and murder case. On September 18, 2014, seven men barged into a jeweller’s house in Jaipur and tried to kill him. They raped his wife and fled with Rs 10,000 cash, 150 gm of gold jewellery, five mobile phones, and other valuables.
“I was assisting the Jaipur police and I realised that the accused can be traced if they operate their phones. The stolen phone proved to be of great help. The victim received a notification from the cloud regarding new pictures being taken by the criminals with the stolen phone. Since her mailbox was synced to the cloud, she could access the pictures. She notified us and we recovered the pictures of the accused. Around 100 photographs of different men who used the phone at railway stations, bus stand, and other places were obtained. The rape survivor identified the accused from the photographs,” explains Mukesh Choudhary .
Watch your step
Forensic podiatry and gait analysis are proving to be important tools for the investigator. Forensic gait analysis is based on the premise that every individual’s walking pattern is unique. It helped the police to crack the Gauri Lankesh murder on September 5, 2017 in Bengaluru. The murderers wore a mask and gloves, but their gait gave them away. “The lead came from an examination of the gait of the killers captured by the CCTV footage captured at the time of the murder. The Directorate of Forensic Sciences of the Gujarat police used forensic gait analysis to match the walking pattern of the killers with that of the suspect,” says Mukesh Choudhary, adding, “The special investigation team used AI to extract images of the suspected persons and their vehicle. They compared the footage with that of CCTV cameras.” It was first time ever that AI was used for cracking a case in Karnataka.
Forensic tools like DNA tests have been around for years. The Mumbai police used superimposition photography (a procedure followed in the Sheena Bora case). Then there is forensic facial reconstruction used when a crime involves unidentified remains. The process recreates the face of an individual from their skeletal remains through a combination of artistry, anthropology, osteology and anatomy. There are three main types of facial reconstruction: two-dimensional (photographic prints or drawing), three-dimensional (sculpture or high-res 3D computer image) and superimposition.
“Chinese law enforcement agencies have rolled out facial recognition in pharmacies in Shanghai for people buying certain drugs. Individuals buying controlled medicines (psychotropic substances) are asked to verify their identity by scanning their face.We are considering the same for hotels/lodges and other hotspots where the chances of hiding a criminal are more,” says Vikram Jeet Duggal, IPS, senior superintendent of police of Amritsar (Rural), Punjab Police.
Facial recognition technology has huge potential as it can be installed at airports. Eye detection software and motion and sensor technology are being used to detect psychological and physical behaviour to tell if people are telling the truth. According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), facial recognition technology was launched at a few Indian airports in July. The Delhi police last year said they had identified nearly 3,000 missing children in a matter of days during the trial. “Several cases got a lead by examining the trachea and sooth formation, especially when a person is killed and later burnt,” says Ram Mohan, SP, cyber crime, CID, Andhra Pradesh.
In yet another gruesome case, a man was murdered and his body burned in Shamshabad. The Hyderabad police solved the case within 48 hours with the help of a bar code and batch number on an empty whiskey bottle found at the crime scene. The police reviewed the CCTV footage and found that the victim had visited the wine shop with two other persons.
The Telangana police have incorporated new technologies from Russia and the US. Papillon, a Russian automated fingerprint identification system (AFIS), which helps identify if the fingerprint from a crime scene belongs to any known suspect. The Mobile AFIS installed in cellphones and helps the police to detect if a person is wanted in a crime.
Says Anjani Kumar, commissioner of police, Hyderabad, “There are various dimensions to the use of artificial intelligence in policing. The Hyderabad police are using Facial Recognition System (FRS) effectively since 2019. We have also helped other states in detection of cases. AI in image analysis and gait analysis is already used by various police. In fact, Microsoft and the New York police department have collaborated to form DAS (Domain Awareness System). Now, the Hyderabad police are also adopting to these latest techniques of image analysis with the help of FRS and other software.”
The police may not yet have Minority Report’s psychic “pre-cogs” to predict crime before it happens, but the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) is using crime data analytics software to enable predictive policing. Developed by the Hyderabad-based Advanced Data Research Institute (ADRIN), laws enforcement agencies can map crime patterns, conduct hotspot analysis and predictive analysis. The Portrait Building System (PBS) helps to extract face components like head, eye, nose, mouth, chin , etc. The Maharashtra police is deploying Automated Multimodal Biometric Identification System (AMBIS) to create a digital database of criminals that uses face and iris recognition along with fingerprint scanning technologies with help of Apple, Samsung and others. “Several erasures of hand writing having phone numbers gave lead for further investigation. The Next Generation Identification (NGI) system uses biometrics—including fingerprints, palm prints, iris recognition, and facial recognition—to match up individuals with their criminal history information,” says Ram Mohan.
Crooks misuse technology to commit a crime, but the same technology can be used to outsmart criminals and prevent crime....