Amped has a chat with Mario Ruiz Mateos from the Criminalistic Service in the Spanish Guardia Civil

We love learning about our users. We like to hear your views about the world of image and video forensics, what your challenges are, and also discovering your personal interests and hobbies. If you want to share your story, contact us for a chat!

Mario Ruiz Mateos, from the Spanish Guardia Civil, has been our user for many years and is probably our very first user in Spain. He’s a very skilled and enthusiastic user of Amped FIVE and a good friend who over the years has contributed with his ideas and feedback to the continuous improvement of the software. I’ve enjoyed his company in several training sessions and conferences in Madrid and other places… and also some nice evenings after the training sessions.

Martino Jerian, Amped Software CEO and Founder

Mario, tell us a bit about yourself. What is your background and your current role at the Criminalistic Service in the Spanish Guardia Civil?

I am the Manager of the Forensic Image Area, one of the four areas of the Engineering Department of the Criminalistic Service of the Guardia Civil. I have been performing this duty since 2013 although I have been working in the Forensic Image Area since 2003, first as an Expert and then as Technical Director. During this time, I have been drafting expert reports and technical documents related to image and video enhancement and authentication cases, answering requests made by our investigation units and testifying in courts, here in Spain and, from time to time, in some international cases.

I joined the Guardia Civil when I was seventeen, willing to help and serve, but I soon realized that if I wanted to make a real contribution I would need to study and get some training. So I graduated with a Degree in Computing Sciences and then I continued my studies to earn a Master Degree in Forensic Sciences.

What made you decide to enter the field of multimedia forensics?

When I was in my first year of University, my unit got a call from the Engineering Dept and, since the requirements were mostly knowledge on computing, I thought that it was a good opportunity to develop my career in something really interesting. At that time, I was mostly doing static surveillance, where I could not perform any technical skill.

In my first year in the Dept. I mostly trained and worked in the forensic audio field, but since the image forensic group needed reinforcement, the Manager of the Dept. finally decided that my knowledge could be valuable to boost the development in that territory.

What would you say are the biggest challenges with multimedia digital evidence and investigating crimes?

Nowadays, related to DME, the question is not whether there is a piece of evidence or not, but how much evidence there is. The amount of multimedia information that we have in an investigation is huge and it has been growing exponentially in the last few years, not only because of the use of smartphones or the increasing potential of the CCTV systems, but because of all the new equipment related to electronic surveillance that we have now, such as body cams for police officers, security cams for cars or sport cams for bikes or helmets.

From my point of view, the real challenge is to know from which video or image you will be able to get valuable info and to do it quickly in order not to waste time at the first stages of an investigation. Having this knowledge could be tricky if you are not used to working in the image enhancement field or, at least, if you do not have basic training to “separate the wheat from the chaff”. In this matter, Amped FIVE has been helping us a lot. Once you are used to working with the software, the amount of time that you spend evaluating an image and processing it is very short.

Talking about smartphones, the powerful capabilities they have is amazing. Some of them have a combination of two or three rear cameras. These devices are able to get pictures with quality quite similar to an SRL camera and to capture images even in RAW format. This is going to increase even more the number of images and videos that could be valuable in a criminal investigation. Images and videos from these devices were mostly not suitable to obtain something after an enhancement procedure, but now they are going to have enough information to be eligible to perform an image enhancement. On the other hand, these new devices use a great amount of software processing to deliver images more fit to the users taste, something that makes the authentication analysis difficult.

What would you say are the main forensic challenges surrounding image validation? How can they be addressed?

Though the foundations are the same, from my point of view, image authentication is more demanding than image or video enhancement. On the one hand, you do not have a direct evaluation of the outcome as obvious as the one that you have when you are enhancing an image, it means that you need to have a good understanding of the technique that you are applying to know what you are really doing. On the other hand, the expert has to know how to understand the outcomes properly in order to conclude if the results support any of the hypotheses.

Therefore, it takes more time to master the techniques properly and there are fewer experts in this field. Thus, in any investigation unit there is always someone with enough knowledge to apply a basic image enhancement procedure with some image editing software, but no one but us, in the Criminalistic Service, have the tools and knowledge to perform an image authentication analysis correctly.

The good news is that the matter of the image authentication is so critical for a court that many experts and companies are developing and working on this field.

In your opinion, how important is it that digital forensic techniques and tools are based on the scientific method?

Considering that our outcome and conclusions can be taken into account in court, the methods and techniques that we use should be always founded on the scientific method. The techniques used to perform the forensic works are shared with others in the forensic community, who test the techniques and outcomes again, revealing flaws and giving new approaches. Actually, a court testimony is somehow a scientific method test: the techniques applied should be reproducible by any other expert and repeatable by any other forensic service, and the lawyer or attorney’s argument works as the refutability for our conclusions.

Why do you think that it is so important that forensic image and video analysts be properly trained?

As I pointed out in my first answer, there has been a great increase in the number of DME that a first line investigator will find during a crime investigation, it means that it’s critical to have proper training and good knowledge about how to preserve digital evidence and how to obtain the best results from them. Having first responder level investigators with some knowledge and the right tools makes the difference between having a quick outcome to carry on with the investigation, keeping the chain of custody and the integrity of the evidence, or having a bunch of devices (smartphones, hard disks, DVR…) on a pile of evidence bags and an investigator filling forms to be sent to the lab.

How do you think the world of image and video forensics will change over the next few years?

I think police officers and investigators are going to have a higher level of competence to perform works and analysis on digital evidence, considering not only image and video but new formats of multimedia objects that can combine audio, video and 3D. We have already seen virtual reality used to reproduce crime scenes in front of the court, but maybe in a not so distant future, there are going to be crimes committed in a virtual reality environment… it could sound too futuristic, but I don’t think so, and we have to be ready and highly trained in the newest technologies.

How did you learn about Amped Software?

During my first stage in the Forensic Image Area, we had training in several institutes and universities looking for the silver bullet on image enhancement. In one of these trainings, we heard that an Italian software developer was creating a new software to perform forensic image enhancement. At that time, we had several products in our lab but none of them offered us, let’s say, “decisive images” and they were not easy to use, thus, we made contact with Amped and gave it a try.

From the first time we used it, it made an impression on us, it was simple to use but, at the same time, it gave us several tools to apply image enhancement. We loved the interface and workflow from the very beginning, and yeah!!… the results were good enough in many cases!!!

Do you have any interesting story or success case related to Amped Software products?

Actually, we have plenty of them. Let’s take into account that we are one of the first users of Amped FIVE. We have been using FIVE in cases related to criminal organizations and terrorism and with important media impact here in Spain and outside our borders.

But if I have to name one, I choose one from which I have a very vivid memory, it was the first time we were able to get a readable license plate with Amped FIVE. The investigators had wrong information about the license plate and they were looking for a completely different car. Our quick work and answer changed the course of the investigation and the perpetrator was caught in a few hours.

When you are not busy looking at digital evidence, what do you like doing in your spare time?

I love traveling, visiting new places, having new experiences, meeting other people, tasting other food… it revitalizes your mind and body and gives you another point of view. Though nowadays tourism has become an issue in many places and cities, I firmly think that the world would be a better place if people travelled more.