Saturday, June 6, 2009

Law Enforcement Only?

Lee Whitfield over at Forensics4Cast posted a very good piece on the subject of law enforcement only tools and training, along with the disparity of pricing between law enforcement consumers and private consultants.

You can read his post along with reader comments here.

I have to say that I am in agreement with Lee on this subject and have been for a long time.  As a consultant who does a lot of criminal defense work, I am puzzled by the animosity I get from law enforcement people at conferences.  If I want to have a conversation with anyone from law enforcement, I have to avoid mentioning that I do criminal defense work.  Otherwise the majority of them get defensive and start making claims about how perfect the law enforcement examiners are.  In other words, I am wasting my time working for the defense, since their evidence is infallible.

The way I see it, I have no issue working for either side, since the job of a forensics examiner is to gather evidence, both incriminating and exculpatory.  As Sergeant Friday used to say "Just the facts, ma'am."

I am also puzzled by law enforcement "discounts" for tools and software.  In my opinion, the discounted price is the real price and private companies are getting up charged.

Where did this practice come from?  I suspect it is there to discourage private consultants or at the minimum to handicap them by making tools and software more expensive.  It reminds of the practice of charging overtime when a serviceman comes to your home or business after hours.  That practice started, not as a means to recover additional costs on the part of the service company, but simply to punish customers who called for after hours service.  It was desigend to discourage after hours calls by invoking a contrived penalty on those who had the audacity to interrupt the serviceman's weekend.

A few years ago, Guidance Software considered restricting customer access to their message boards by forcing all private users into a "Consultant's Forum" and denying them access to the forums used by law enforcement.  Fortunately, they came to their senses before they ended up losing a lot of clients who have to pay a premium for their products to other companies.

I believe in the free exchange of information to advance the field for every exmainer, regardless of who they work for or what kind of cases they take.  Digital forensics, as a discipline, is not predicated on what kind of case it is used to analyze.  Attempting to give one side an advantage by keeping secrets, restricting training or price gouging certain classes of customers is counter-productive for everyone.

The same holds true for associations that exclude certain classes of examiners by the types of cases they work.  It is a lot like cutting off your nose to spite your face.  By refusing to interact with examiners who may work on the other side from you in cases just keeps you from learning about how they view the opposing side's work, keeps you from gaining knowledge that can prevent problems for you in cases and does nothing  help everyone to learn and avoid common mistakes.

As people who practice a discipline that is in the realm of forensics, open discourse is the best way to improve the field and advance knowledge for everyone.

In the famous words of Forrest Gump, "That is all I have to say about that."

2 comments:

  1. I understand your position but wanted to make a couple of (hopefully) salient points.

    1) The "real price" of any item is what a buyer and seller agree that it is. If you don't like the price - don't buy. I'm not trying to be facetious but it's pretty clear that a seller can create price structures almost any way that they want to...

    2) I think that the LEO market *is* different in some tangible way just like any other private vs. public sector markets. Insisting on identical pricing would mean that my employer should be able to buy airplanes from Boeing for the same price as the DoD. Or, by extension, that a seller should offer a startup company the same discount as a Fortune 500 company...

    3. That being said, your point on information sharing is more on target. But, again, the seller can make that decision. It may be stupid (see the above Guidance example) but sellers get to be stupid.

    Cheers!

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  2. I appreciate your point of view. Bear in mind that the market for tools is very limited. Just saying, "Don't buy." missed my point. If you are referring to volume discounts, that is one thing, but the industry tends to upcharge private companies for everything, universally. The fact that I have to pay more will not affect my tool purchasing. But it is annoying.

    The information sharing has nothing to do with buying or selling. It is about the people who work in the industry, not about the vendors.

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