Lawyers for actor Johnny Depp turned to a digital forensic expert from Grosse Pointe Farms on Wednesday to poke holes in the defense in the libel suit against ex-wife Amber Heard.
Bryan Neumeister was tasked with analyzing photos presented by Heard’s legal team to determine if they had been altered. The photos allegedly show injuries inflicted on Heard by Depp, the defense says.
Neumeister said it was impossible to validate the photos without the iPhones used to take them.
“There is no way for a forensic expert to validate any of these photos,” he said.
Neumeister has a wide range of credentials with 80 awards and prizes for videography, as well as more than a dozen Emmys for editing, sound, and more. He has 42 years of experience in the digital industry and has recorded 14,700 hours of video footage from helicopters.
Neumeister is the CEO of USAForensic, a small digital forensics firm with offices in Grosse Pointe Farms and Phoenix, Arizona. The company has worked on more than 600 federal and state cases in the past four years, from murder and defamation to money laundering and anything else that requires cell phones or computers.
“We work with different types of clients because to us data is data and it doesn’t pick sides, so we ended up working for the prosecution, defense, law enforcement, The Innocence Project, we have a contract with the Department of Defense, we do classified and unclassified work, we’ve done classified work with different industries,” Neumeister said.
In this case, Neumeister’s company was asked to analyze photos of Heard’s reported injuries to verify if the images had been altered in any way.
Neumeister mainly used Exchangeable Image File Format (EXIF) data, a standard that defines specific information related to an image or other media captured with a digital camera, to recognize that the photos were not extracted directly from the original iPhone.
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“In this situation, I see the operating system saying ‘Software: Photos 3.0’ instead of system, meaning the photos had to be displayed and merged in an editing program,” Neumeister said at the booth.
Photos 3.0 and Photos 1.5 are editing software that Apple has included with their products for editing photos. However, the programs are also a place to easily store and sort images.
“There is no way to authenticate a photo that was presented the way the evidence was collected,” Neumeister said. “This couldn’t come out of an iPhone this way. This would go into a computer, be edited and displayed through the photo editor and this would then be embedded in the EXIF data.”
The images Neumeister received were screen grabs, rather than directly from the iPhone the images were taken from, so the data has changed. Consequently, there is no way to determine positively or negatively whether any of the photos presented have been altered.
“In 95% of the cases, we have the real phone,” Neumeister added. “When people have something they want to keep as evidence, they don’t throw away their phones, they don’t recycle their phones, they keep their phones.”
“So in a situation like this there are no forensic extractions, in fact the extractions we got were backups of iTunes export backups, so it’s 3rd generation and there’s no way to change the file paths and history.” from a single photo that we looked at,” Neumeister said.