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Alexa, Tell the Truth & Nothing but the Truth: How Audio is Solving Crimes


In July, a Florida man was charged with the murder of his girlfriend, Silvia Crespo. He claimed it was an accident and that he’d even tried to save her life, reported The Washington Post. Back in November 2015, an Arkansas man was accused of murdering a friend at home. The man claimed it was an accident that happened while he slept off a night of football and drinking, reported CNN

In both cases, the police decided to investigate a key witness: Alexa, Amazon’s voice-activated virtual assistant.

Police sought out evidence of the July crime through a warrant for the audio recordings maintained by Amazon. They believed the attack on Crespo that occurred may be found on the server, but obtaining these recordings opens the door to significant debate. 

Audio and Voice Forensics Uncover The Facts

Sometimes, receiving a recording is all it takes to prove guilt or innocence. Yet not all recordings are made equal, and they’re certainly not all equally trustworthy. That’s where voice forensic and audio forensic experts come in. There’s also a lot of math involved.

“By measuring the time it takes the sound to reach each microphone,” software tools “can estimate the original location,” explained CBC. Further investigations of audio submitted as evidence often occur to ensure a direct recording was provided and that it caught the sound or events authentically.

Accuracy and authenticity are critical. Audio forensics experts are often tasked with figuring out whether an audio file matches the device it was allegedly recorded on. They must consider whether the recording was delivered as is, or some elements were edited out or added in.

Voice biometrics also come into play. Like fingerprints, voiceprints are unique to each person. They are composed of countless elements, and cannot be replicated or confused with another human’s voiceprints. This fact is crucial when considering recordings that contain multiple voices, especially similar ones, that could sound the same to the naked ear. As voice recognition technology grows smarter, ensuring the accuracy of an investigation and its corresponding evidence will become easier.


Transcribing Audio Files Accelerates Investigations

Another way technology is making law enforcement professionals’ lives easier is by allowing them to search through audio files, so they can easily find the piece of the recording needed to understand where to follow up.

Artificial intelligence has made it possible to get audio files transcribed faster than ever at a high level of accuracy and in a cost effective way. AI-based tools are trained using thousands of hours of content to understand industry terms, past cases and current events. Some providers have human professionals review each transcript in order to deliver 99% accurate results. With artificial intelligence, each time the software is used and its transcript is corrected, it becomes smarter.

Law enforcement professionals use transcription software on the go to record notes instead of stopping to write them down while chasing a suspect, which reduces the need to sacrifice accurate documentation. At the office, they can transcribe investigations, testimonies, 911 calls and surveillance materials, among others.

Some professionals process information better when reading it, while others might notice a detail they missed initially while reviewing materials in different formats. Text-based content is also easier to share with colleagues who are collaborating on a case. Finally, audio search is often helpful for law enforcement who must search for and find specific sentences in a sea of evidence.


Could Increased Audio Usage in Law Enforcement Lead to the End of Privacy?

Despite the many benefits of using today’s audio technologies to solve crimes efficiently and accurately, Amazon, who introduced Alexa to the world, was not quick to collaborate with law enforcement.

Amazon’s reasoning? Privacy.

“‘Given the important First Amendment and privacy implications at stake, the warrant should be quashed unless the Court finds that the State has met its heightened burden for compelled production of such materials,’ Amazon’s lawyers wrote in a February memo,” reported CNN in 2017, referring to the 2015 Arkansas murder case.

In July 2019, when law enforcement officials asked for the Amazon Echo files regarding the murder case, Amazon pushed back again. According to The Washington Post, which is owned by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, “‘in a statement, Amazon spokeswoman Faith Eischen told The Washington Post that the company ‘does not disclose customer information in response to government demands unless we’re required to do so to comply with a legally valid and binding order.’ She added that the company ‘objects to overbroad or otherwise inappropriate demands as a matter of course.'”


While Amazon’s fight for privacy is likely, at least partially, influenced by its commercial interest and the need to retain customer trust, it brings up a point that is valuable regardless of such interests. Many of us reveal intimate information to the devices that surround us every day. Our privacy, and therefore our safety, becomes more and more vulnerable with each passing year. Tapping into this information without our authorization cannot be an easy decision or process.


Moreover, organizations that partner up with technology companies to accelerate investigations and deliver justice need to take these facts into consideration. It is critical to ensure sensitive information is only shared with providers who have taken real steps to secure privacy, both from cybercriminals and from colleagues who don’t absolutely need the information for their work.

Despite the clear argument to protect one’s privacy, technology is empowering law enforcement and the workforce’s ability to solve crimes like never before. 

When Used Correctly, Technology Provides Greater Justice

Using audio in investigations is nothing new, yet as technology advances, it becomes easier to determine the specifics of a committed crime – the how, when, why, and who. As law enforcement professionals tap into the opportunities that the market’s tech tools provide, it is important to keep citizens’ rights in mind. Privacy and security concerns remain of the utmost importance.

When implemented effectively, technological advancements can help make the world a much safer place.


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Legal Transcription 2030: What You Should Know

If you’ve been feeling overwhelmed by the changes going on in the transcription industry, you’re not alone. The stenographic shortage has been challenging, and there’s a natural hesitance that comes with embracing new technologies.

However, industry professionals who want to be relevant in 2030 can no longer ignore the digital transformation that is occurring in the market. 

The Need for Legal Transcription Will Continue Increasing

As indicated by a new intelligence report by Future Market Insights (FMI), legal transcription is already a significant market, accounting for $3B USD in 2018. “The market value is anticipated to grow at a CAGR of ~6%” and “the demand for legal transcription services from legal attorneys is likely to increase at the CAGR of ~8%” during the next decade.

As technology expands, we have more media and forms of communication, meaning there is much more content to transcribe: phone calls, personal videos, social media videos, surveillance camera footage, investigation recordings and
voice-activated virtual assistant recordings, to name a few.

Technology also makes it easier to get a higher quantity of content transcribed at a faster pace, and often at a better price, without compromising quality or security.

Turning to Digital Legal Transcription

As the report points out, “the deployment of legal transcription over the cloud is a significant trend,” which “is expected to contribute to significant growth” over the next 10 years. The industry is projected to increasingly turn to digital solutions.

Disruptive technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, and data analytics are gradually entering into legal tech platforms, and legal transcription is no exception… Automated speech recognition (ASR) has held a grip of law firms to transcribe speech and other information in real-time. Use of AI-driven, digital voice, and video capture technology and services for legal transcription helps streamline documentation processing and boost efficiency,” stated FMI.

Tech also boosts accuracy and provides faster turnaround times. In an industry where a mistake in one sentence can change somebody’s entire life, the ability to transcribe audio quickly, accurately, differentiate between voices with ease (thanks to ASR) and understand technical legal terms (thanks to machine learning), is key.

Due to AI, turnaround times will continue to be faster than traditional methods, helping agencies serve more clients, prepare more cases, provide clients with justice faster, and save taxpayer money. It comes as little surprise that all 50 states have already approved digital court reporting.

In making the switch to digital transcription, security tends to also be a common concern. Yet with the right technology and cybersecurity, professionals shouldn’t fear. “Keeping a track of conversation to legally document the progress of cases becomes difficult with conventional methods, the transition to e-documentation is considered a real option,” explained FMI. Today’s cybersecurity solutions are clearly more powerful than putting a lock on a drawer filled with important paper materials.


Understand Your Clients: The Real Reasons Behind the Transition to Digital Legal Transcription

The market is changing as a response to the needs and expectations of clients. While accuracy, efficiency and security are the most obvious reasons to transition into digital, the report revealed additional items to consider.

The Demand for Legal Automation, Personalization and Lower Costs

As all industries evolve with technology to provide more efficient, yet personalized experiences, customers “continue to demand personalized legal advice at reasonable prices. Legal transcription market players are thus hard-pressed to automate their process and offer cost-effective services,” reported FMI. Law firms that serve businesses are often required to review larger amounts of content than consumer-facing law firms, and are expected to understand data across jurisdictions, which makes the need to transition into digital even more significant.

Law Firms Want More Time With Clients & Less Paperwork

Law firms want to increase their available time for clients and provide more human-to-human interaction. Reducing time spent on bureaucracy involving transcription, or reducing wait time for transcriptions, with key tech will leave them with more time for strategic client casework.

Law Firms Want More Budget Predictability and Transparency

Legal “customers are demanding more predictability and pricing transparency when it comes to legal transcription services spending,” FMI reported.

There’s a limited availability of stenographers and human challenges, such as unavailability due to sickness or the need to listen to a recording over and over again to understand an unclear word or differentiate between voices. Digital tools make it much easier to provide budget predictability and transparency.

Transitioning into Digital & Hiring Based on Social Responsibility

While the FMI report did not tap into this issue, transitioning into digital legal transcription is another step toward going paperless in an industry that relies heavily on documents. In 2015, 90% of US consumers surveyed said they were willing to switch providers to a company that advocates for a cause.

With a growing awareness of climate change, being proactive about going paperless is one of the easiest ways law firms can differentiate themselves. Agencies that transition into digital and provide paperless legal transcription can help them do that.


How To Effectively Transition to Digital Legal Transcription

Transitioning into digital shouldn’t be overwhelming. Check out our resources for how-to guides, ways to overcome common concerns that might come up, and advice on how much budget to set aside.

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