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Is it real or not? Navigating new AI threats and safeguarding digital identities

As AI technology evolves, law enforcement faces new challenges in distinguishing real from AI-generated content; this complexity is reshaping investigative methods and legal frameworks

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Recently, we saw a first-of-its-kind arrest of two middle school students who created deepfake nude images of their classmates. This arrest marks a new milestone for law enforcement as they consider how to address the use of generative AI relative to child sexual abuse material and nonconsensual deepfakes — by even juvenile offenders.

The rapid advancement of AI technology has brought significant benefits, but it also poses new challenges, especially for law enforcement agencies. AI-generated images and voices can be incredibly realistic, making it difficult to discern authentic evidence from fabricated content. This new landscape requires investigators to develop sophisticated techniques and legal frameworks to keep pace with these technological innovations.

In this episode, Policing Matters podcast host Jim Dudley speaks with Heather Mahalik Barnhart, Senior Director of Community Engagement at Cellebrite, about the complexities law enforcement faces due to AI advancements. Heather highlights the difficulty in distinguishing real from AI-generated images, the legal ambiguities surrounding AI evidence and the mental toll on investigators. She also shares practical advice on securing personal and family digital presence, emphasizing the importance of updated security settings and awareness.

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About our guest

As Senior Director of Community Engagement at Cellebrite, Heather Mahalik Barnhart connects customers and communities with industry-leading digital forensics technology and subject matter experts. Formerly, as the Senior Director of Digital Intelligence, Heather guided Cellebrite’s strategic digital intelligence operations, educated DFIR professionals on the latest challenges in the industry, and offered counsel around how Cellebrite can assist them and their missions. Heather has a robust background in digital forensics and eDiscovery, with more than 20 years of experience with forensics acquisitions, examinations, advanced exploitation, manual decoding, application reverse engineering, SQL queries, scripting, professional training, and report writing on electronic media. To help build an engaged, educated community of DFIR professionals, Heather also serves as the DFIR Curriculum Lead and Faculty Fellow Instructor at the SANS Institute. Heather co-authored the best-seller “Practical Mobile Forensics” first through fourth editions and served as technical editor of “Learning Android Forensics” by Packt Publishing. She holds top industry certifications including GASF, GCFE, CFCE, EnCE, MFCE, CCO and CCPA. She was also named to Mirror Review’s 10 Influential Women Leaders of 2023.

Key takeaways

  1. Complexity of AI in investigations: AI-generated content complicates the identification process, making it hard to discern real images from manipulated ones.
  2. Legal frameworks lagging: Current laws are struggling to keep up with AI advancements, creating gaps in how AI-generated content is treated in legal investigations.
  3. Mental health of investigators: The task of sifting through vast amounts of potentially disturbing content can have severe mental health impacts on investigators.
  4. Digital security practices: It’s crucial to maintain strict privacy settings on social media and be vigilant about who has access to your digital footprint.
  5. Educational initiatives: Programs like Operation Find Them All and partnerships with organizations such as NCMEC are essential in supporting law enforcement and raising public awareness.


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Policing Matters law enforcement podcast with host Jim Dudley features law enforcement and criminal justice experts discussing critical issues in policing