Academy Aperçus—December 2022

Source: Laura C. Fulginiti, PhD, AAFS Past President

The Academy Aperçus is a monthly feature that celebrates 75 years of forensic science by spotlighting the history and anticipating the future of each section of the Academy. Beginning in March and progressing through each section in the order of acknowledgement by the Academy, a senior member will join with a junior member to memorialize salient events, highlight members, and provide insight into why the Academy remains the premier forensic science organization in the world. This month features the Digital & Multimedia Sciences Section.

The Development of the Digital & Multimedia Sciences Section

Zeno J. Geradts, PhD, AAFS Past President and Digital & Multimedia Sciences Fellow

The first experience I had with the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS) was when I was invited as a speaker in a workshop on using the internet in Forensic Science in 1997 in New York. At that time, the internet was coming up as a resource, and since I hosted a website on Forensic Science since 1993, it was a very nice meeting to see colleagues. At that time, there was no Digital & Multimedia Sciences Section, and I applied in 1998  for the Engineering Sciences Section to be a Provisional Member (now known as Associate Member).

I am grateful that I met Carrie Whitcomb at a meeting of the European Network of Forensic Science Institutes (ENFSI) in Paris in 1997 which was also combined with the meeting of the International Organization of Computer Evidence (IOCE). I later met Mark Pollitt, who worked at that time at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Computer Analysis Response Team and was active in the field. We had already had discussions that there should be an AAFS section on Digital Evidence.

I traveled to the United States each year to the AAFS meetings, since it is excellent for networking and learning new insights in the field, and people were very nice to me. I remember I thought it was impossible to become President of the AAFS when I was sitting at one of the business meetings in 2002. I learned later, though, that it was possible, if you climb the ladder with different positions. When I was in the Engineering Sciences Section, I was nominated as Section Secretary during the 2004 Annual Business Meeting in Chicago, IL. The next step was to serve as Section Chair in 2005.

At the 2005 AAFS meeting in New Orleans, the planning of the new section took shape with the guidance of Carrie WhitcombDavid BakerMark Pollit, and myself. There were interests from many different sections, including the General Section, followed by Engineering Sciences, Pathology/Biology, Criminalistics, Jurisprudence, and Odontology. Since we needed at least five Fellows to propose a new section, it took another year for our section to be proposed.

During the 2006 AAFS meeting, the idea to form the Digital & Multimedia Sciences (DMS) Section was proposed with Carrie providing a brief historical overview of the development of digital evidence and its growth, including Scientific Working Group on Digital Evidence (SWGDE) and the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors/Laboratory Accreditation Board (ASCLD-LAB). Clarification of the Bylaws as to the number of members means that Associate Members are counted as members for the 30 required minimum members in a new section.

Mark Pollitt presented the proposed AAFS DMS Section policies and procedures. There was some discussion on inclusion of photography and other multimedia work as part of the section. The main concept was that when it is used as a tool of an examiner for documentation, it isn't actually forensics, it is a tool.

In 2007, there was a list of 30 members, including five Fellows, to start the section. Carrie Whitcomb officially submitted a letter of intent to the AAFS to form this section in. The ad hoc meeting in San Antonio, TX, proposed Carrie Whitcomb as Section Director, me as Section Chair, and David Baker as Section Secretary.

On May 31, 2007, David Baker received an email from President Bruce Goldberger that the section could start in 2008, and this was the start of the section that would be called Digital & Multimedia Sciences.

The section started that year preparing workshops and presentations and had its own slot at the meeting in 2008 in Washington, DC, at the 60th Anniversary meeting. It was the first new section to be formed since the Engineering Sciences Section was formed in 1981. The section received a budget from the AAFS to start, and funding was received from MITRE and some members to begin funding the awards.

The DMS Section had many new members since, in most casework, one would see digital and multimedia evidence as digital devices such as Closed-Circuit Television (CCTV) -cameras, smart phones, and computers are everywhere. OSAC accepted digital evidence as a science from 2014.

The section had two short-term Vice Presidents — Carrie Whitcomb (2010-11) and David Baker (2016-17). I am grateful that I was elected the first DMS representative to serve as AAFS President (2019-20). Unfortunately, Carrie passed away December 30, 2017. She is remembered as one of the most influential members of our section, and I learned a lot from her.

We see that digital and multimedia evidence is in nearly all cases and the rate of change of our work is fast. All digital equipment, ranging from mobile phones, computers, cars, medical devices, or anything with a chip in it, can provide digital evidence. However, due to encryption and other privacy protection in devices, much research is needed since methods that worked yesterday may not work tomorrow. At the Netherlands Forensic Institute, we see that the number of staff members expanded from 3 in 1993 to over 200 in 2022. We saw the membership of DMS grow at the AAFS, and we hope to have many more members in the future. For me, it is a real honor to be part of the AAFS and an honor to have served in several positions, along with so many nice colleagues.

My Journey in the Digital & Multimedia Sciences

Nicole R. Odom, MSFS, Digital & Multimedia Sciences Section Trainee Affiliate

I have never been a complacent learner. In fact, I've never quite understood how one could settle into a job and feel content with what they know. I think that's what makes science, and specifically the Digital & Multimedia Sciences, so perfect for me.

Although my path to this career seems clear to me now, my journey to where I am today was not as straightforward as I would have liked. Something I have always found interesting about practitioners in the Digital & Multimedia Sciences is that many of us do not have an undergraduate degree in a computer-related discipline; physical science and criminal justice majors being as abundant as computer science majors. Personally, I hopped around a bit during the first two years of my undergraduate degree, comfortably settling into medicinal chemistry as a focus. By my senior year, it never occurred to me that I might pursue anything other than a career in a wet-lab setting or a hospital until a trusted friend suggested I might enjoy working in the forensic sciences — so, I explored. The initial tour of the facilities at my forensic science graduate program was my first encounter with digital forensics, an area that had never been on my radar. During my short time as a graduate student, I quickly developed a preference for my digital forensic courses over my forensic chemistry ones, which is something I never expected. It became clear that I had an aptitude in working with computers, and with the full support of my advisor, I pursued a career in the Digital & Multimedia Sciences — the best decision I have ever made.

My graduate program placed a strong emphasis on getting involved in the forensic science community through attending meetings and producing content that is helpful to others in the field. The first conference I ever attended was AAFS 2018; it was an eye-opening experience for me. Seeing the extent of research being shared, and the digital forensic community that readily embraced new members, had a profound impact on me. I turned right back around and gave my first presentation at AAFS 2019, followed quickly by presentations at two more international conferences and a journal publication in JFS. I believe the support I received early on as a Student Affiliate member of the DMS section, as well as the guidance I have continued to receive from current practitioners and researchers as a Trainee Affiliate member, have greatly helped to foster my current successes.

Something that I have carried with me since the beginning of my career in DMS is a phrase that my digital forensic professor said in his intro course: "Learn to be comfortably uncomfortable." At the time, I found it odd enough to write down; however, it could not have been more sage advice. The sheer amount of content to learn in this field is innumerable, making it impossible to know everything and extremely difficult to become a master of even one specific area because there will always be something new to learn the next day — and that's okay! How often I hear a phrase begin with, "Well, it depends — " is slightly ridiculous, but is nevertheless accurate. There are so many variables in this field that change with every updated security patch or new model, and that is why I believe we must trust in the science and "research, research, research!"

I truly feel that now is such a pivotal moment for digital forensics. We are in the prime of new technology with the Internet of Things (IoT); there has been a boom in the areas of incident response and cybersecurity in this past year alone; and academia is actively recognizing the importance of this discipline, building out programs designed to help students succeed in hands-on practice. For this reason, I am extremely excited for the future of this field. It is honestly hard to anticipate what the future may bring to this area of the forensic sciences, except to say that change is inevitable. The Digital & Multimedia Sciences, in my opinion, is one of the most dynamic disciplines, since technology is constantly advancing from one day to the next. Although digital forensics has been around for many years now, the field of Digital & Multimedia Sciences is still in its infancy in relation to other disciplines and, therefore, has so much potential to grow. This past year at AAFS 2022 was the first time that we, as a section, have actively ventured into interdisciplinary work with our joint DMS and Psychiatry & Behavioral Science session; I feel that this was a great success and is only the beginning for more collaboration. I look forward to what the future may bring for not only the Digital & Multimedia Sciences section, but for the discipline as a whole.


The views and opinions expressed in the articles contained in the Academy News are those of the identified authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Academy.