Australian Federal Police’s new digital forensics lab helps fight crime before it occurs

Aug 22, 2016
The AFP is the only police agency in Australia to include its digital section within the forensics system.
The AFP is the only police agency in Australia to include its digital section within the forensics system.

The Australian Federal Police’s (AFP) motto is “fight crime together and win” and science is proving one of its most potent weapons in that fight.

As criminals find new ways to commit offences online, using techniques like encrypted messaging to hide their work from authorities, the AFP is bolstering its digital forensics force.

Although a lot of its methodology is top secret, the man in charge of that section, Doug Boudry, let on that digital forensics, or “DF” as he calls it, involves more than just pulling apart computers all day.

“It’s everything. It could be a GPS, it could be a smart watch,” he said.

Unlike traditional forensics, which reconstructs events, scientists use digital forensics to predict criminals’ next moves.

“In terrorist-related crime the forensics needs to be proactive,” AFP specialist operations national manager Simon Walsh said.

“It needs to be able to assist investigators to disrupt and prevent those acts from ever occurring.”

Because the officers are potentially saving lives, time is critical and they are required to work faster.

“That is a real pressure for us and something we are trying to enhance our capabilities to achieve,” acting chief forensic scientist Sarah Benson said.

But Dr Walsh said that was only becoming harder as criminals became smarter.

“If those communications are encrypted then the legal powers to monitor those communications can be affected,” he said.

Last financial year, AFP forensics played a role in about 2,400 national and international cases ranging from child exploitation, to counter terrorism, fraud, identify theft and the trafficking of weapons.

The unit also helped examine 3,000 drug seizures detected in the international mail stream over the same period.

After five years of construction and almost $106 million, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull officially opened the forensics labs at Majura in Canberra earlier this month.

According to the agency’s top brass, the facility is the most advanced of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere.

“It allows us to better utilise the technology and skills we have available to support investigations to help deter and prevent serious crime,” Dr Walsh said.

While the scientists are grateful for their new high-tech lab they groan at the suggestion it looks like the set of the popular television show CSI.

“We just laugh it off now,” Benson said.

Source: ABC Australia