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1 Aug 2019

NBlog Aug 1 - forensic mythbusters

We're currently researching for a future awareness module on forensics - a topic that has absolutely fascinated me since I was a kid through to my 20s as a geneticist (a "DNA scientist"). Naturally, for security awareness purposes, we'll be focusing on the use of forensics within the context of information risk and security ... but forensic science is all about information, including its availability and integrity, so our brief might yet widen.

Today I stumbled across The Innocence Network, a growing global movement to re-investigate dubious convictions, exonerate wrongly convicted people and press for improvements to criminal justice systems as appropriate. 

Wrongful convictions are a treble tragedy:
  1. An innocent person is punished for something they didn't do. This is unjust and harmful to the individual, plus their families and social networks.

  2. A guilty person often goes free. This typically flows from point 1. I say 'often' and 'typically' because sometimes a guilty person is convicted or punished in other ways, and occasionally there is no 'guilty person' in fact (e.g. where a genuine accident or mistake wrongly appears to have been deliberately caused by someone's actions or negligence). This is unjust and can be harmful to subsequent victims that might not have been harmed if the guilty person had been correctly convicted and effectively punished.

  3. The criminal justice system is materially harmed by every wrongful conviction, particularly but not only those that come to light. This is a serious societal issue that leads to a loss of trust in the system, occasionally even social disorder, vigilantism, revolt etc. Any civilized society has a low to zero tolerance for miscarriages of justice, especially in the most serious cases leading to severe punishments. The legal test "beyond reasonable doubt" hangs on the premise that the system should err on the side of caution: point 1 trumps point 2 above, in order both to achieve justice and to maintain a healthy social order.
From there, I bumped into some excellent videos about forensic techniques, including one debunking the myth of microexpressions and other pseudo-scientific ways allegedly capable of discerning liars from truthsayers - just some of the nonsense touted by egocentric social engineers, particularly those selling dodgy SE methods to a naive yet eager market. 

Who'd a thunk it, eh? Social engineers manipulating people. Imagine that.

PS  Those 'microexpressions' and other body-language signals that allegedly allow observant [highly trained and hence very expensive] 'specialists' to detect when someone is telling lies, in fact don't. The claims are misleading, causing more harm than good. Worse still, thanks to the meme, even some ordinary members of the general public believe they have superpowers:
"For many years, post-trial, I would ask jurors in federal cases, what made them think a particular witness was lying? They would reply that they knew the witness was lying because the witness touched their nose, looked away or up to the right, their skin flushed, touched their lips before answering, rubbed their thumbs together, licked their lips, scratched their ears, or shifted their jaw. Incredible, right? Imagine if that were your life on the line"  Joe Navarro
It is not merely a shame. It's a tragedy when innocent people are incarcerated as a result of this baloney. This is fake news writ large. 

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