Archiving & Video As Evidence

Video is increasingly serving as evidence in a broad range of legal settings, but there are currently no universal concrete standards for admissibility. If you want to use a video as evidence, ensure that you investigate and consult legal professionals on the requirements relevant to your court’s jurisdiction.

From the Thomas Lubanga Dyilo case at the International Criminal Court (ICC).
From the Thomas Lubanga Dyilo case at the International Criminal Court (ICC).

As a rule, however, any evidence must first and foremost be deemed relevant to the case or investigation in question, and to hold probative value. Probative value is the ability of evidence to prove an issue, and increases when the evidence can be shown to be authentic and reliable. The actions you take to ensure the authenticity of your video therefore strengthen its probative value.

Video evidence needs to be properly documented and handled to maintain its authenticity. According to Elliott Goldstein, author of Visual Evidence: A Practitioner’s Manual, “any defensible procedure for documenting and preserving digital video evidence must answer these questions:

  1. Who captured the image and when?
  2. Who had access to the image between the time it was captured and the time it was introduced into court?
  3. Has the original image been altered in any way since it was captured?
  4. Who enhanced the image, when and why?
  5. What was done to enhance the image and is it repeatable?
  6. Has the enhanced image been altered in any way since it was first enhanced?”

Source: Careless, James. “Video Evidence.” CBA PracticeLink. Canadian Bar Association.

Steps taken throughout the archiving process, as outlined in this Guide, can help to ensure that you can answer these questions. In summary:

Capture important metadata at the point of creation

The most important information to capture is that which can lead to corroboration: date and time, geographic location, and the video’s creator or source. This metadata can support a video’s authentication. See “Create” for more.

Keep contextual metadata about your video

Cataloging and detailed description can support the credibility of video evidence by ensuring that corroborating contextual information has been documented and linked to the video in a structured way. However, the description must be accurate; always be clear and truthful about disputed or unverified information; and do not editorialize. See “Acquire” and “Catalog” for more.

Document chain of custody

Keep a complete summary of when you acquired a video file, who else has had custody of the video file and when; who had access to your video file and when; what actions (e.g. alterations) were performed on the file and by whom. See “Acquire” and “Catalog” for more.

Maintain authenticity

Always retain the original files from the camera, unaltered and un-transcoded, and do not rename them. Always retain the original order of files from the camera. See “Transfer,” “Acquire,” “Organize,” and “Store” for more.

Document file fixity

Hash values can show whether your files have been tampered with, so it is valuable to compute and capture hashes early in the video lifecycle. Compute and keep a record of hashes at the point of creation, or as soon as you offload files from your camera. See “Transfer” for more.

Additional Resources

Try This: BASIC

Video as Evidence” chapter in Video for Change: A Guide for Advocacy and Activism.

Try This: BASIC

WITNESS Video as Evidence tipsheets and guides.

Archive Guide

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