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Deloitte wins £2.3m "digital forensics" contract as police devices backlog mounts

Police face a backlog of 25,000 unexamined devices...

The Police Digital Service has signed Deloitte as a“capability partner” to support its Digital Forensics Programme (DFP) under a £2.3 million contract contested by just one other management consultancy.

The firm will be providing support for “selective extraction and examination” of digital devices.

The contract comes as UK police forces have built a backlog of over 25,000 unexamined devices and as the UK’s law enforcement world continues to struggle to transform its approach to digital forensics.

(HM Inspectorate of Constabulary defines this simply as “identifying, collecting, examining and analysing electronic data” – something that has never been more important in helping solve crimes.)

Digital forensics in the UK: Lacking joined-up thinking

As National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) lead for digital forensics, Deputy Chief Constable Paul Gibson said in December 2022: “Today, virtually every crime has a digital element, often involving vast amounts of complex data. This presents policing with a serious challenge. We recognise this… and are taking action.”

Deloitte will act as the “single supplier with internal cross-functional expertise to oversee, deliver and support a defined set of capabilities and outcomes for the DFP” the Police Digital Service (PDS) said on December 30.

The PDS is the delivery vehicle for the National Policing Digital Strategy. It comprises a group of experts in data, digital transformation and innovation, and is driving 12 of the 15 “in-flight” national digital transformation programmes. The digital forensics programme meanwhile was created in April 2022 to help policing meet its digital forensic challenges and deliver the NPCC Digital Forensic Science Strategy published in July 2020.

That strategy had emphasised that the police “haven’t been quick enough or co-ordinated enough in making use of the potential that digital forensics offer, to find a way to take advantage of the huge advances in mobile, cloud, artificial intelligence, sensors and analytics that are commonplace in almost every other walk of life.”

Among the UK police forces’ challenges are familiar data availability, accessibility/compliance, and quality ones that would be eminently familiar to those in most verticals outside of law enforcement too.

As the 2020 strategy put it: “Legacy data, generated or seized for, or as a result of, past digital forensic examinations, is stored in various formats. For most forces, lack of access to case management systems and limited integration with force ICT means managing and weeding this data is largely manual.”

A backlog of 25,000+ devices

A December 2022 inspection into how well the police and other agencies use digital forensics in their investigations by HMICFRS found that forces are “overwhelmed and ineffective” in digital forensics.

It said: “[We] found that the police simply didn’t understand what digital forensics meant. We found a national backlog of over 25,000 devices waiting to be examined. This didn’t include all the devices likely to be in the system… [We also found] little evidence of collaboration, regionally or nationally. This is disappointing, especially around procurement and shared access to specialist equipment… The technology and skilled staff required to provide digital forensics is often expensive. We found that financial leaders didn’t always understand what was required, and digital forensics wasn’t linked to force strategies or plans. This has led to business cases, submitted by unit heads, being considered in isolation and not as part of a co-ordinated plan.”

HIMCFRS made nine recommendations for action.

Nine digital forensics recommendations for UK police forces

  1. By April 2023, the National Police Chiefs’ Council should appoint a dedicated lead for digital forensics, who should, by July 2023, develop a governance and oversight framework to better understand the national demand for digital forensic services
  2. By December 2023, each force in England and Wales should develop a governance and oversight framework to better understand the local demand for digital forensic services.
  3. By April 2024, the National Police Chiefs’ Council, supported by the College of Policing, should encourage an increase in the number of dedicated, competent and trained digital media investigators available to advise investigators and at crime scenes.
  4. By September 2023, the National Police Chiefs’ Council and all forces within England and Wales need to include the management of digital forensic kiosks in their governance and oversight frameworks.
  5. By April 2023, the Home Office should review digital forensic budgets and funding. Future additional funding should support the national digital forensic strategy and be well communicated and easier to access.
  6. By April 2023, the College of Policing should make sure all its digital courses have sufficient focus on investigations and victims’ needs.
  7. By June 2023, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for digital forensics, the Home Office and relevant support services should provide guidance to all forces on the use of cloud-based storage and computing power.
  8. By November 2024, chief constables should integrate digital forensic services under their existing forensic science structure.
  9. By November 2024, the Home Office should work with the National Police Chiefs’ Council, the College of Policing and the private sector to design an alternative operating model that would provide effective and sustainable digital forensic services to support police investigations.

The police received £25.6 million in national funding for forensics in 2022/23 following a strategic review. This is split across annual funds for the Forensic Capability Network, one-off funds to complete and transition services from the Transforming Forensics, programme, and funds for the digital forensics programme.

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