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Russell Webster

Russell Webster

Criminal Justice & substance misuse expert and author of this blog.

The world’s first Space Detective Agency

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New technologies present new opportunities for law enforcement agencies to catch and prosecute criminals – from Smartphones that can report themselves stolen to the increasingly sophisticated police use of social media for gathering intelligence, investigating crimes and establishing evidence. The Air and Space Evidence Agency uses satellite imagery to assist criminal investigations.

Hi-Tech investigations

This post is about the latest development in the law-enforcement v criminals high-tech arms race with cops and robbers adapting new digital techniques to outwit each other.

New technologies present new opportunities for law enforcement agencies to catch and prosecute criminals – from Smartphones that can report themselves stolen to the increasingly sophisticated police use of social media for gathering intelligence, investigating crimes and establishing evidence.

The Air and Space Evidence Agency uses satellite imagery to assist criminal investigations. Launched last year by UK pair Ray Purdy and Ray Harris, the specialists in law and Earth observation have worked on enquiries all over the world.

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Range of investigations

The company has worked on a wide range of issues, and specialises in before and after images to support or contradict the claims of law enforcement or insurance officials. Examples include:

  • Insurance Fraud Investigations.
  • Criminal Investigations.
  • Regulatory Investigations.
  • Planning Controls.
  • Environmental Investigations.
  • Border and Boundary Disputes.
  • Human Rights Investigations.
  • Commercial Investigations.
  • Agricultural and Subsidy Fraud Investigations.
  • Disaster Monitoring and Aid Auditing.

Satellite imagery is increasingly used to document human rights abuses by looking at the destruction of buildings, military outposts and troop movements and, very sadly, mass graves in places such as Sudan, Syria and Burma.

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Criminal detective work

You might think that satellite imagery is used more for looking at images across wide areas – it’s excellent for identifying contraventions of environmental laws such as ships discharging oil at sea or illegal deforestation.

However, it can also be used to drill down into individual crime cases, such is the power of modern satellite imagery. Insurance investigators charged a couple in New Orleans with insurance fraud after satellite images taken immediately after Hurricane Katrina revealed that the damage to their house actually occurred after the Hurricane.

The company has recently been involved in seeking evidence in burglary and murder cases and expects greater satellite coverage and increased technical sophistication to mean that “space detectives” will soon be a routine method for solving terrestrial crimes.

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