SP&T News

Caught on camera: Ensuring the chain of custody

June 4, 2024  By James Careless

Image courtesy Axis Communications

Audio/video evidence gathering platforms can be incredibly effective tools for corporate and commercial security departments.

When their collected content is shared with law enforcement, these platforms can be real crime-solvers. The key is to do this sharing in ways that preserve the integrity and veracity of the evidence for use in court.

“Any time the community can step up, whether that be organizations or citizens, to provide useful information to police is critical for everything they do to solve crime and make our community safer,” says Sean Sportun, chair of Toronto Crime Stoppers.

How they do it: Three evidence gathering platforms

To explain how audio/video evidence gathering platforms can help solve crimes, we need to understand what these platforms are all about and how they share content. We can do that by looking at three popular platforms made by Axis Communications, March Networks and Motorola Solutions.


Axis Communications produces a wide range of fixed and body-worn cameras that capture audio/video content and record it to the company’s video management system (VMS). The VMS is structured as a unified system, says Sophie Laplante, the company’s business development manager.

“The advantage of a unified system is you can combine all the video/audio along with the body-worn video evidence,” she explains. “We believe in open architecture, which is why all this can be performed with Axis Camera Station and other platforms such as Genetec and Milestone. Additionally, users have the option to leverage cloud-based evidence management systems (EMS) for body-worn systems using our Axis Case Insight for cloud-based evidence management capabilities.”

When it comes to sharing audio/video evidence with law enforcement, “our set up is efficiently simple, requiring just a few key components such as a body-worn camera, a docking station for recharging, the system controller and the content destination,” Laplante says. “The content destination can be either a VMS or our cloud-based EMS. Exporting the footage is trouble free, once the evidence has been reviewed and selected it can be named, protected from deletion and bookmarked. Once you have created the bookmark it becomes easily searchable based on its label.”

March Networks specializes in video cameras, recorders, encoders and the Command video management system. Evidence Vault is the company’s purpose-built product that has been specifically designed to ensure integrity of stored/shareable audio/video content.

“March Networks’ Evidence Vault is a cloud-based service that allows for the secure storage, management and sharing of video evidence and related data from surveillance systems,” says Jeff Corrall, the company’s chief product officer.

“Evidence Vault enables users to export cases to the cloud in .MP4 or .CME format, and securely share them with authorized recipients. The .CME format is a specialized video surveillance file format designed for use with certain recording systems to efficiently store and manage footage. Once a case is exported to Evidence Vault, the designated recipients are notified by email and can access and download the case from the cloud. Additionally, Evidence Vault allows system administrators to monitor and control access to cases through user permissions and activity audits.”

Because different agencies use different file formats, March Networks has configured its Command Enterprise web client interface to access and attach documents, photos and video to case files in any format.

“Initially, uploads are private and only become visible when shared,” Corrall notes. “External agents can also be granted rights to upload evidence. To ensure the protection of your case evidence, multiple security measures are in place, including time-limited sharing, encryption in transit and at rest, and an activity log for audit purposes.”
As part of its public safety technology solutions, Motorola Solutions is a provider of body-worn cameras, in-car video camera/recording systems, drone video software and command centre software, among others.

“Motorola Solutions’ VB400 body camera is relied upon by both security users and their law enforcement counterparts, who have similar, but distinct, evidential needs,” says Stuart Boutell, Motorola Solutions’ director of evidence product management.

“Its backend software, VideoManager EX, is deployable on-premises or in the cloud, and handles every stage of an evidential video’s journey from initial capture to closure — whether storing the video for future training and regulatory reasons, or sharing it with law enforcement for prosecutorial purposes.”

Once security personnel have compiled all the relevant information about a particular event into an incident file — including video, audio files, PDFs and metadata — VideoManager EX allows them to share evidence with law enforcement in multiple ways. “This includes sending a password-protected link, an MP4 file or DVD, or inputting the content directly into a law enforcement agency’s system,” Boutell says. “VideoManager EX can also be configured to export incidents as soon as they are created — minimizing effort on the security user’s side, so they can remain focused on core duties.”

Image courtesy Motorola Solutions

Ensuring the chain of custody

The legal value of audio/video evidence is rooted in its unaltered authenticity; in other words, certainty that the video file being shown in court is the same as the file that was initially captured and recorded by the camera. Being able to prove this is what the “chain of custody” is all about.

However it is configured, the chain of custody for audio/video evidence must keep it pristine and unaffected.
Here’s how each of the three companies mentioned above ensures the chain of custody.

At Axis Communications, “the camera’s internal storage is AES-256 encrypted to prohibit unauthorized access to data,” says Laplante. “Communication is based on IPv6 and certificates to ensure that the camera will offload data only to the specific system controller or system it belongs to. When data is offloaded from the camera to the system controller, an HTTPS encrypted network connection is used. The data is only briefly stored in the system controller’s AES-256 encrypted storage device, before being further transferred, using another HTTPS encrypted connection, to the content destination.”

The security and integrity of the Axis Communications system controller is further strengthened by a FIPS 140-2 compliant Trusted Platform Module (TPM). As well, “both the body-worn camera and the system controller are equipped with Axis Edge Vault, a hardware-based cybersecurity platform that protects all data on the devices and enables several security features,” Laplante says.

“For example, the file system is encrypted, and the key is protected by the Axis Edge Vault. Secure boot ensures that the devices can boot only with authorized firmware. Signed firmware makes them reject firmware upgrades if the firmware integrity is compromised. And signed video creates an extra layer of protection by adding a cryptographic checksum into the video stream.”
Under March Networks’ Evidence Vault system, “evidence is first exported from the recorder or server (media archiver) to a local PC, and then uploaded to Evidence Vault where it is stored in the cloud,” says Corrall.

“Users can manage permissions, control access, send email notifications and audit activities before sharing files with the designated recipients. Evidence Vault also enables system administrators to monitor and control case access through user permissions and activity audits. All actions such as viewing, sharing or downloading evidence are meticulously logged within the system’s activity audits. Finally, multiple measures are in place to ensure case evidence is protected, including an expiry on sharing time, encryption in transit and at rest, and an activity log to facilitate auditing.”

According to Motorola Solutions, their VideoManager EX platform has been designed to meet law enforcement security requirements and to provide clear chain-of-custody documentation. Every action taken on this system is recorded in an undeletable audit log that supervisors can access to show the file hasn’t been tampered with or inappropriately shared, and all footage is protected with AES-256 encryption, both in transit and at rest.

“Only authorized users and devices can access VideoManager EX through the proper authenticated connections,” Boutell says. “Further, system-specific keys allow only authorized VB400 body cameras to connect to VideoManager EX. This means that, if a body-worn camera is stolen or misplaced, the footage cannot be retrieved, watched or deleted by bad actors. Secondly, we aim to ensure that once users are on the system, they only have access to the parts of VideoManager EX which are relevant to their duties.”

Image courtesy March Networks

Advances to come

As impressive as the above three evidence gathering platforms are for sharing content securely with law enforcement today, the future holds even more exciting possibilities.
“As technology advances and becomes more affordable, I imagine a future where real time intelligent centres will be able not only to transfer evidence securely but to protect their officers on site,” says Laplante.

“Picture this: A real time live remote assist intervention where the operator can seamlessly collaborate with the officer on-site visualizing unfolding events and providing immediate assistance via two-way communication (video and audio) to prevent dangerous situations for both the officer and the public.”

Corrall foresees “strategic integrations” between secure evidence gathering platforms and providers in specialized areas such as video redaction.

“Also, future advances will see automated uploading of video evidence to Evidence Vault based on alarms and notifications for preconfigured events, where users set rules that trigger alerts and automatically send important video to the cloud,” he says.

“For example, a retail store can set a rule where footage of any POS transaction where no customer is present can trigger an alarm and the clip will be uploaded to the cloud. The store owner or manager can then review and verify if the transaction was fraudulent.”

Meanwhile, Boutell says that Motorola Solutions will continue to use AI and “well-designed human-centred technology” to “assist human decision-making and simplify connection points between public safety and businesses.”

The utility of evidence-gathering platforms seems destined to keep advancing and improving over time. The security industry has come a long way from pulling a VHS surveillance tape off the shelf and turning it over to police.

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