Seeing the bigger picture
A chat with Tristan Oliver, Griffeye Law Enforcement Liaison in the UK
Meet Tristan Oliver, Griffeye’s Law Enforcement Liaison Officer and Head Instructor in the UK. With 30 years under his belt as a police officer, 16 years of that as a computer forensics expert and the last six years focusing on high-risk child abuse and exploitation cases, Tristan knows all too well the challenges his former colleagues face. And he’s got a few ideas about how he and Griffeye can help.
Hello Tristan. How does it feel to be starting off on this new journey?
It’s exciting but it feels like a natural progression. After all those years on the job, living and breathing it, I couldn’t just walk away. I wanted to give something back and I can really do that in my new role.
So it feels like a continuation of the same journey?
Yes. I’ve always been interested in the technology and the challenges and opportunities it presents. From the start, when our digital forensics unit was an empty office with two desks, I was an early advocate and beta tester for different technology and ways to help grade and categorise CSA material. I’ve probably used every tool out there, always looking for faster ways to achieve better results, and that’s also how I first came into contact with Griffeye and the Analyze platform. It’s a dedicated technology for this type of investigation meaning it’s straightforward and user-friendly. Now my role is to help other users get the most out of Analyze. In other words, making sure users have the right tools and the right training.
“I wanted to give something back and I can really do that in my new role.“
You mention the technological challenges and opportunities. What do you think those are?
The main challenge has always been very similar and that’s to handle the workload and find new evidence. Right from the start in the early 2000s, we were going through the same material time after time and it clearly wasn’t an effective way of working. Even in later years coping with the sheer volume has been a struggle. For example, in one case, we had 48 hard drives and over 8,000 DVDs with a mix of CSA and adult material. It was over 20 million images and I worked out that it would have taken an investigator two and a half years of work to look at every image even for just a second. Of course, that sort of volume is also a huge demotivator for investigators before they’ve even started, not to mention how exhausting and stressful it is once they’re working the case.
And the opportunities?
Technology and the way it allows us to work differently can change that. In just a few short years, technology has changed how we can do just about anything. Take artificial intelligence as one example; it now allows investigators to identify and flag child sexual abuse material automatically. This means a lot of opportunities for investigators and end-users. I think it’s important for managers and decision-makers to be aware of both the enormity of the task and the scale of the potential improvements like speed as well as the missed opportunities in investigations. With the caseload challenge, we’re often just scratching the surface of investigations. That’s the bigger picture I’d like us to see.
So the bigger picture is that investigators can do more?
Yes – and not by working harder either. By working smarter and making the core job easier. For example, if we trust and train someone to categorise an image, there’s no reason for that image to be looked at again. Trust the people and trust the data and we avoid duplicating a lot of work. That frees up a lot of time, which is important because it’s really with the opportunities we’re missing that we can do more, particularly in the area of identifying abusers and victims. I’ve seen those opportunities myself when you have the time to dig a little deeper into a case. With the workload, cases are often about reaching a threshold for prosecution, perhaps for possession of CSA material. And once that threshold is reached, often using images that are already widely known and categorised, then there is a tendency to stop and move on to the next case.
When there’s the time and the tools to look in more detail and find new clues it’s been possible to see that this is not just a case of possession, but the suspect is involved in abuse themselves. IDing abusers and particularly victims should be the focus.
You mention Victim ID work, how have things changed and what are your thoughts looking forward?
First of all, the UK national database, CAID (The Child Abuse Image Database), has been a game changer in the fight. I remember before CAID that we used to meet up with other forensics teams in the UK and hand each other CD-ROMs with categorised material – like a manual CAID for sharing intelligence. Since CAID was launched back in 2015 by David Cameron, Prime Minister at the time, it’s been a success with speeding up CSA investigations. And now, with even more powerful tools and technology available, not to mention the collaboration possibilities, it’s possible to do even more work with victim ID going forward. Whether it’s Face or Object Recognition and spotting other clues in images and videos that can help identify abusers and victims and their locations.
That’s why I say to investigators that they should always gather as much information as possible when investigating a suspected crime scene, such as taking photos of rooms in a house. These might seem outside the actual case, but with the technology available nowadays you can use these images to check against categorised CSA material and perhaps reveal ongoing abuse. Because when the sheer volume of data stops becoming a challenge it becomes an opportunity to do more and protect more children. I like to think that Griffeye and I can be at the heart of that by working with the UK police and helping equip and train our end-users to get the most out of the technology.
“I like to think that Griffeye and I can be at the heart of that by working with the UK police and helping equip and train our end-users to get the most out of the technology.”
It sounds like you have big plans and ambitions
Absolutely! I’m a great believer in doing whatever is possible. Whether it’s riding motorbikes, scuba diving or paragliding in my spare time. But especially getting the most out of our time at work and achieving the greatest good because there are few jobs as important as this.
Thanks, Tristan. And good luck!