(left to right) Lucy Carey-Shields (Digital Forensic Investigator), Ryan Moulson (Digital Forensic Unit Manager), Christopher Whiteley ( Digital Forensic Quality and Development Co-ordinator), Dean Southworth (Digital Forensic Investigator) and David (Jason) McKeown (Digital Forensic Investigator)
The DFIU were selected to take part in a Home Office initiative to improve digital forensic processes in relation to evidence in child sexual exploitation (CSE) and child sexual abuse image cases – through the use of automation and artificial intelligence (AI).
And as the only force successful in the work completed as part of the national pilot, GMP have approved further funding via POAP for the technology and IT infrastructure, allowing it to be rolled out for everyday use.
The Home Office initiative – the National CSE Automation Project – selected three forces to run a different element of automation, with GMP being selected to perform API Automation, involving automation software being run on computers through the use of code.
The aim of the project was to streamline operations, harness automation technologies and test innovative techniques, subsequently improving productivity and expediting access to evidence to achieve justice quicker, higher conviction rates and increased public trust.
The DFIU team’s pilot successfully processed data 50% faster and without the need for human intervention. This means when receiving mobile phones or computers relating to child sexual abuse or CSE investigations, the automated process retrieves deleted data, analyses / assesses pictures and videos and collates it all together, prior to being sent to investigators.
Working closely with Magnet Forensics, who helped to develop the software, the team, who recently received a POP Award for team innovation and won a Chief Commendation award from Chief Constable Stephen Watson, credits Magnet Forensics with being pivotal in the being the only successful pilot within the initiative. – which took place in 2021/2022.
GMP’s involvement in the pilot came about due to a backlog of cases. In 2019, the DFIU team recognised a significant increase in demand and pressures in relation to CSE and child abuse image cases. There was increased time from case submission to achieving the end result, primarily due to increasing data sizes. This also had an impact on the mental health and wellbeing of staff in the unit.
Digital Forensic Investigation Unit Manager, Ryan Moulson, welcomed the pilot and credits the hard work of every member of his team to its success. The team include Digital Forensic Investigators Lucy Carey-Shields, Dean Southworth and David (Jason) McKeown, and Digital Forensic Quality and Development Coordinator, Christopher Whiteley.
Ryan said: “The data that we see when reviewing mobile phones and devices in relation to CSE or child sexual abuse images can be extremely distressing to staff.
“It can be that the team could review up to hundreds of thousands of images on a case-to-case basis to find evidence of child sexual abuse images or of the sexual exploitation of children. The AI automation can help identify images much quicker, enabling faster safeguarding for the victims, but also reducing the time for digital investigators to have to review traumatic child abuse images.
“This automation process has such a positive impact on the mental health of staff and will completely transform digital forensics in these kind of cases.
“By building on this proof of concept, we can now be leaders in national best practice and are in the process of securing a significant uplift in technology to process jobs a lot faster which will in turn bring down backlogs faced in this high demand area of policing.”