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Data Recovered From DVD Leads To Conviction, 24-Year Sentence 231

Posted by Soulskill
from the put-that-in-a-safe-place dept.
Lucas123 writes "The Santa Cruz, Calif. DA's office had been counting on a DVD with the recorded testimony of a victim in case against a serial rapist, but when they popped the video into the player, nothing came up — the disc was blank. To make matters worse, the cop who performed the original interview with the victim told the DA she never said she was 'forced,' so the judge wasn't going to allow the witness to testify in a case where her original statement to police was in conflict with her current testimony. After two local data recovery firms said there was no way to restore the data, a third was able to recover the police interview from two years earlier, which led the defendant to plead guilty earlier this month. Close call."
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Data Recovered From DVD Leads To Conviction, 24-Year Sentence

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  • eep (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dissy (172727) on Friday December 12, 2008 @10:18PM (#26099619)

    Hardware: Recovered Data From a Corrupt DVD Leads To Conviction, 24-Year Sentence

    Why did my mind instantly jump to the conclusion that some data recovery tech worker did someone a favor, got sued by the MPAA, and got a 24-year sentence...

    • Re:eep (Score:4, Interesting)

      by lysergic.acid (845423) on Friday December 12, 2008 @10:40PM (#26099751) Homepage

      i was thinking in the same direction too. but when i read this part of the summary:

      but when they popped the video into the player, nothing came up -- the disc was blank.

      my immediate question was, "did they try a PAL player?"

      what's interesting to me is that two "data recovery firms" told them that the data was unrecoverable, but Seagate Recovery Service was able to recover the data without a problem. that makes me wonder if the earlier data recovery firms even tried to diagnose the problem or if they even knew anything about digital media & data storage. perhaps they thought that just by buying some digital forensics or data recovery software that automatically qualifies them to run a data recovery service. though i'm guessing that's what most police departments do as well.

      i guess that's the problem with buying off the shelf software to do your job rather than learning how things work for yourself.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        my immediate question was, "did they try a PAL player?"

        I seriously doubt that a police department in Santa Cruz would have recorded it on a PAL device or have a PAL DVD player available.

      • by frieko (855745)
        A PAL disc and a NTSC disc are identical, except for minor differences such as frame rate and resolution. A computer can play either format.

        It sounds like the TOC was corrupted, in which case you could still get the data pretty easy by doing something along the lines of cat /dev/dvd | mplayer -
        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by lysergic.acid (845423)

          i know. i read the article.

          the PAL remark was a joke.

          • by theaveng (1243528)

            "It was a joke" is not clear from the original post. Too bad smileys are now trademarked, else you could have used one to indicate it was just humor.

            • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

              by RockDoctor (15477)

              Too bad smileys are now trademarked, else you could have used one to indicate it was just humor.

              Only some smileys have been trademarked so far, leaving you with a range of permissible emotions to choose from. You could, for example, have indicated that the post was =:+}====_-_- ("shocking and powerful enough to have stunned me for long enough to grow a knee-length beard while giving me a hairstyle the wife would disapprove of"). This emotion is available for use until midnight tonight when my patent application for it lands on the desk of Vanuatu's Patent Office.

              (This message contains humour referenc

      • Re:eep (Score:4, Informative)

        by gregbot9000 (1293772) <mckinleg@csusb.edu> on Saturday December 13, 2008 @01:50AM (#26100689) Journal
        Or they could stick to the analog media that is near failure proof. They probably knew how it worked, it just probably didn't. Write error that wasn't detected, minor corruption in the disk, things that can't be planned for. After having lost 2 years worth of photos to two minor technical issues I'm starting to doubt this whole digital thing. A box of analog photos, while harder to share, is a lot less likely to fail then a hard drive.
        • by theaveng (1243528)

          I concur. Why not just use analog videotape? I have tapes that are 30 years old and although there's some deterioration you can still see/hear the original movie.

          Self-erasing DVDs and CDs are just too unreliable for important storage of irreplaceable things (convict testimonies, family memories, wedding video). This is why I still use Super VHS-C for my captures - it's robust and captures an image better than DVD (no compression).

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by HateBreeder (656491)

          You can always print your photos out.

          Besides, everyone knows that optical media is not suitable as an archival medium. (CD rot.. decay.. we've been hearing about those for years)

          In my opinion, The most cost effective/reliable solution for a home user, is buying HDD and using them in some raid configuration, replacing them as they fail once every few years.

        • by Haeleth (414428)

          Or they could stick to the analog media that is near failure proof.

          If you seriously believe that, then all I can say is that you've been remarkably lucky. I've seen VHS tapes, only about 10 years old, where the soundtrack was so distorted that it was nearly impossible to make out.

        • by jimicus (737525)

          There's no such thing as media that is near failure proof. That's one of the great benefits of digital media - you can make identical backups before it fails.

          Now, why the Santa Cruz DA's office doesn't have some sort of process to keep backups of data and migrate it onto newer media as technology progresses while still retaining proof that it's identical to what was originally recorded (so as to make sure it will stand in a court of law) is another issue altogether - and probably one worth considering seei

    • It was for kitty pr0n [365jokeplace.com]!
  • by imaginaryelf (862886) on Friday December 12, 2008 @10:21PM (#26099627)

    "Our analysis showed there to be damage to the lead-in section of the data," Keith Gnagey, vice president of professional services for i365, said in an e-mail statement about the recovery effort. That meant any attempt "with normal playing software would not be able to get past the beginning of the data."

    That's like the directory tree being messed up but the data being intact.

    I can't believe the other "two local data recovery firms" got stumped by this simple problem.

    • by aliquis (678370)

      Maybe they are more into "recovery" than "troubleshooting."

      Which just confirms my fear that they can't recovery shit in serious situation but just the normal stuff. I've been thinking if there was any idea to turn in my sisters laptop HDD (crash after laptop drop onto table) or not, but I guess not in most cases. Also it cost a fortune anyway.

      • Years ago I sent a hard drive into OnTrack that had been soaked in coffee by the owner of a company (spilled coffee in a Thinkpad laptop, the Thinkpad kept running like a champ, the drive died shortly thereafter). $1500 and 2 days later, we had DVDs with the content of the drive.

        • by aliquis (678370)

          I suspect the replaced the logic board / moved the plates to another drive?

          The problem is that I have no idea if the heads has slapped into the discs or something such, damage on the electronics would seem salvageable, damage on the actual disks less so =P

          Also while she would probably want them back $1500 for 2 weeks of New Zeeland photos of which she still have some on a cd and some on paper + various other images for a half years worth or something such may be to much.

          • For personal stuff like that, I'd write it off and tell her to make backups in the future. MozyHome is $4.95/month for unlimited backups. A small price to pay.

            • by myz24 (256948)

              Check out jungle disk, it is potentially cheaper

            • by theaveng (1243528)

              Or just clone your data across two drives (your c: drive and an external USB drive). If one fails you still have the second for backup.

    • by RiffRafff (234408) on Friday December 12, 2008 @10:27PM (#26099677) Homepage

      I can't believe the other "two local data recovery firms" got stumped by this simple problem.

      Really. I wonder what the names of those two firms are, so we'll know who NOT to go to.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by The MAZZTer (911996)

        I wonder if there's any people out there who intentionally corrupt an ISO image in a controlled way that is known to be recoverable by someone who knows what they are doing (but not perhaps by automated tools) and then sending out burns of the DVD to different companies to see what they can do.

        Might be expensive though.

      • by the_womble (580291) on Saturday December 13, 2008 @12:24AM (#26100329) Homepage Journal

        Maybe the headline should read "incompetent data recovery nearly lets rapist get away"

        • by digitalchinky (650880) <dtchky@gmail.com> on Saturday December 13, 2008 @04:34AM (#26101321)

          Your comment is not insightful at all, you are just looking for someone else to drag along for the blame, for any stupid reason other than the right one. The individuals doing the investigation would have been the ones who let the rapist get away with the crime. End of story. "Here at the California DA office we routinely put all our eggs in one basket". What kind of shop are they running there anyway? - a single video recording device, one disc, a large number of months between the interview recording and the need to use that disc in court. Nobody bothers to see if the disc actually works until it's needed.

          Now that is incompetence at its finest.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by jimicus (737525)

            Not to defend these people but data storage systems are seldom sold with the caveat "look out, these things don't last forever, make sure you've got a plan B". You'd be amazed how many people outside of IT simply don't consider backup to be important.

            And even if a salesman did make that clear to the DA's office, I wonder how long it would be before a less than honest salesman made out that his product didn't have that issue (even though it's exactly the same technology) and took the contract?

        • Once data recovery was necessary, the incompetence was already obvious -- on the part of those making or storing the recording.

    • by sith (15384) on Friday December 12, 2008 @10:28PM (#26099693)

      Almost sounds like a DVD that wasn't finalized in a direct-to-dvd camcorder.

      • by Compholio (770966) on Friday December 12, 2008 @10:37PM (#26099735)

        Almost sounds like a DVD that wasn't finalized in a direct-to-dvd camcorder.

        I don't know about that, but I've run into this problem when there's dust on the disk when it's recorded. The laser etches the dust rather than the media, resulting in a disk that's got a small blank section.

        • by bigjarom (950328) on Friday December 12, 2008 @11:29PM (#26100019) Journal
          I'm interested to know how you came to this conclusion. Did you find the laser-etched dust particle on the finished disk?

          Maybe you could send the dust to Seagate Recovery Service to get that blank section back.
          • by Compholio (770966) on Friday December 12, 2008 @11:46PM (#26100133)
            I noticed after burning the disk that there was dust on the bottom (a lot of it concentrated in one spot). So, I blew it off and the part where the dust used to be was distinctly the "not burned" color. For shits and giggles I tried the disk anyway and there were a bunch of inaccessible files. Since I noticed it right away I just chucked the disk and made a new one (I was working with data on a PC). This happened quite a while ago, but if you're curious I could attempt to intentionally reproduce it.
            • by tylernt (581794)

              I don't know if it was foreign matter or a manufacturing defect in the disc, but I had recorded DVD hanging on my wall at work that had a fuzzy blob of "not burned" on it too. So it's not a farfetched idea.

            • by Xolotl (675282)

              I did something similar: put a DVD in to burn, not noticing it had a fingerprint on the underside (it was from a cakebox and had evidently been handled carelessly earlier)

              Anyway, after burning the pattern of the fingerprint could be seen in the changed-color DVD medium, just like your dust. I thought it was rather cool. :)

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by DigiShaman (671371)

          Maybe we should start recording DVDs at 16x. That amount of centrifugal force should fling any lose debris off. So I would think anyways...

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by noidentity (188756)

          I've run into this problem when there's dust on the disk when it's recorded. The laser etches the dust rather than the media, resulting in a disk that's got a small blank section.

          You may have had that problem with dusty media, but the explanation sounds suspect. The laser beam is focused to a point inside the disc, not at the surface; at the surface, it's wide and dust simply reduces its intensity at the focused point ( diagram [geekspeak.org]). Looks like BD discs have much less tolerance of dust, due to the data layer bei

          • by Compholio (770966)

            You may have had that problem with dusty media, but the explanation sounds suspect. The laser beam is focused to a point inside the disc, not at the surface; at the surface, it's wide and dust simply reduces its intensity at the focused point (diagram [geekspeak.org]). Looks like BD discs have much less tolerance of dust, due to the data layer being so close to the surface.

            I'll grant that "etches" is an inappropriate description, "blocks the beam, slightly toasts the dust, and prevents data from being writ

        • by danamania (540950)

          And it's not a problem when that happens. The blank section is error-corrected around, and the disc works fine.

          Here's one I did [danamania.com], with a huge oily fingerprint purposely put on a DVD before recording, it was burned, and the 'shadow' of the fingerprint shows up as a huge unburnt patch after the original print has been wiped off.

          The disc worked fine afterwards, and worked fine for quite a while until I lost it.

          • by Compholio (770966)
            I was transferring large data sets to the disk, not making a video DVD. I would expect the MPEG-2 error-correction to take care of a minor blemish, raw data files not so much. I bet if you made a mark with a sharpie about half the length of that fingerprint, cleaned it off after recording the disk, and then tried to play it then your player would get completely stuck when it got to that point on the disk.
          • by Hal_Porter (817932) on Saturday December 13, 2008 @03:07AM (#26101057)

            Actually that makes me think of a hair brained scheme. The finger print is essentially a mask applied to the data. Your eyes can see it but the DVD drive error corrects it away because there are enough gaps in the mask where the original data 'shows through' for the error correction to correct away the errors.

            Now it seems like if you could record raw data you could make a DVD with a pattern visible to the naked eye but invisible to the DVD reader. So rather than waiting ages and buying expensive media for things like Lightscribe or Labelflash you could burn both the data and the label at the same time and on any media. Unlike DiscT@2 which burned logos on the data side of the disk, the space can be used for both logo and data at the same time.

            You could do it with arbitrary bitmaps too - take the bitmap and make holes in it through which enough data shows through to make the disk readable. The burning software could do this with a mask cunningly constructed to make enough holes even in a solid bitmap to make the disk readable. Hell you could let the user select the tradeoff between image quality and error margin.

            There's a a downside of course, the more solid the image the more the error correction will be stressed even for a disc which can be read perfectly. It seems like a disc burned with this technology would be less resistant to scratches and fingerprints.

            • Now it seems like if you could record raw data you could make a DVD with a pattern visible to the naked eye but invisible to the DVD reader.

              I thought I'd heard of something like that already.

        • by sam0737 (648914)

          Wow. Must be a very "big" dust if you mean it costs data corruption. Normally the forward error correction should make the playback just fine.

    • by Belial6 (794905) on Friday December 12, 2008 @10:59PM (#26099857)
      When my father owned a computer shop, he would regularly get people trying to sell him software that would let him do "data recovery". There was no way my father was qualified to do data recovery. He eventually focused only on printer repair because he found he wasn't really qualified to even do most PC work. That didn't stop the sales guys from trying to convince him that if he bought their software, he would do fine in the "data recovery" field.

      So, it doesn't surprise me that two local data recovery firms got stumped. They probably ran the software they bought against the DVD and when nothing came up, they said it was unrecoverable.
      • by mcrbids (148650) on Saturday December 13, 2008 @04:28AM (#26101307) Journal

        Way back when, I bought several such softwares. Most was overblown - lets you "undelete", etc. But then I found some software that perhaps wasn't technically "data recovery" software, but might as well have been...

        SPINRITE II. That software was AWESOME!

        Back when MFM/RLL was still a consideration, media failures were all too common. Drive sectors would go bad, your FAT table would be corrupted, and your system was horked, often so badly that you couldn't even boot.

        But with a copy of SpinRite II and a DOS boot floppy, and a *LOT* of time (often 2-3 days!) and in nearly every case, the computer would be brought back to full operation. I had one system where, whenever the owner had problems with bad sectors, he would rename the file and re-copy from backups. This would cause the area with the bad blocks to become unused, sort of a "manual re-mapping".

        Well, his backups got horked right about the same time that the FAT itself corrupted. The system was gone, the data was gone, and he was in a severe panic. But Spinrite II took over a week to recover everything. But it did. Everything. Even the renamed files read/wrote flawlessly.

        Could I have recovered this DVD? Probably not - I never claimed to be a "data recovery expert". I was honest with my clients about what I was qualified to do (diagnose/reformat/reload) and what I wasn't. But I recovered LOTS of data anyway.

        Now for the funny part:

        I owned a small computer sales/service shop for several years. You know, the friendly neighborhood type. We did *alot* of computer repairs. We gave out free diagnostics, which was an excellent way to get more repairs - the diagnosis was free, the repair was reasonable, customers almost always bought.

        Frequently, we'd be asked to fix software woes, etc. We'd warn about the risks of software problems, possible loss of data, offer to backup their data first, and we'd even make them sign release forms that they did NOT want us to back up the data.

        And then we'd back up the data anyway, routinely. We used a backpack drive that was big enough to keep a dozen or so drive images on it. (parallel port drive with a driver loaded by floppy or CD - this is before USB was common)

        Granted, most of the time, the backup wasn't needed. But when it was, (and it was, maybe 1/4 of the time) we would then charge $150 "data recovery". (to reload the data from our backup) Since our charge for backups was $50, our customers made out slightly in the odds, but we were still the heroes and those who actually needed the data were not too hesitant to pay, especially since, with this method, our success rate was 100%!

    • by jamesh (87723)

      I can't believe the other "two local data recovery firms" got stumped by this simple problem.

      I have more trouble believing that the police only had a single copy of the interview, and no transcript (or maybe that was on the DVD too?).

      If the TV shows i've watched are correct, then they are supposed to give a copy to the interviewee too, so what's wrong with running off another copy (or 3) for storage at another site???

      I firmly believe that if your are relying on a data recovery firm to save you then someone, somewhere, hasn't done their job properly.

  • hmmm (Score:4, Insightful)

    by thatskinnyguy (1129515) on Friday December 12, 2008 @11:20PM (#26099979)
    Couldn't they just have their local forensics lab run FTK on it? I mean, it has saved me and those I work for tons of frustration thanks to stuff like this.
  • by NotQuiteReal (608241) on Friday December 12, 2008 @11:52PM (#26100175) Journal
    You need more than one copy of your data. At least one of the copies needs to be off site. If this is not the case, it is not backed up.
    • More then one copy? How about someone writing what she said, or at least the key points like whether or not she used the word forced.
  • by CyberZCat (821635) on Friday December 12, 2008 @11:59PM (#26100211)

    This is a very common problem that happens when a disc isn't finalized on both audio CDs and video DVDs that are recorded on direct to disc consumer recording systems. After a the actual data is written what is a essentially a "table of contents" has to be written at the beginning of the disc, otherwise you get the "blank disc" effect as describe here. That two separate data specialists couldn't figure this out is rather concerning...

    • Sounds about right (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Gazzonyx (982402)
      No doubt, even without a TOC or any kind of analysis other than a raw disk dump, the fact that the thing had structure should have been the first clue.

      I used to do the audio booth at my church for live concerts and the such, and those direct to disk recorders are a pain (or at least the one we used). If you pause them and then try to start them again while they're closing the track, or something to that effect, sometimes they'll merge tracks or not close at all - but the stream is always there, if somew
  • Santa Cruz is 25-30 minutes from Silicon Valley, I'm really surprised there was seemingly only one competent data recovery firm nearby. Chances are there was more, but the D.A. just didn't find them. Still, i'm surprised that it took two years to find one.
    -Taylor

  • by Ecuador (740021) on Saturday December 13, 2008 @01:17AM (#26100545) Homepage

    ...As a result, Barnes' lawyers claimed that the victim's original police interview, as police remembered it, would have been inconsistent with her trial testimony and therefore would be exculpatory evidence...

    Ok, enough with the data recovery stuff. Can someone please explain to me why the victim was not allowed to testify? I tried to understand but it really is beyond me. Maybe someone can help out with a simple car analogy etc.
    Obviously this is THE LAST time I RTFA. As a /.er I should have known better...

    • Re:Help! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by eh2o (471262) on Saturday December 13, 2008 @04:35AM (#26101323)

      Quite simple. *Never* talk to the police. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i8z7NC5sgik [youtube.com]

      • by Jurily (900488)

        We're sorry, this video is no longer available.

        • by Cow Jones (615566)

          We're sorry, this video is no longer available.

          It's available just fine for me. Try using a proxy; YouTube sometimes use GeoIP data to determine whether a video should be available to you, at your location.

          CJ

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by gnasher719 (869701)

      Ok, enough with the data recovery stuff. Can someone please explain to me why the victim was not allowed to testify? I tried to understand but it really is beyond me. Maybe someone can help out with a simple car analogy etc.

      The woman was interviewed, the interview recorded on DVD, and the DVD was lost. The vague recollection of a policeman who was present was that she had said in the interview that she wasn't forced. Later she said that she was forced. Now this looks like there is conflicting evidence, and the police conveniently lost the evidence that was speaking _for_ the accused. If the vague recollection of the policeman was right, and if she then was allowed to testify again, there would have been two conflicting testimo

      • by grumbel (592662)

        Don't they take notes or stuff? Human memory isn't exactly the most accurate way to store data and if they can't even remember which the guilty party is they better should keep pen and paper handy.

  • It's not at all true that the DA was depending on the DVD... In fact the defense just made an issue that the DA had evidence on the DVD that might point to a key witness changing her story. Since they couldn't turn over a copy of the evidence in a usable form, it became a real problem.

    If the DVD didn't exist in the first place, the DA would have been better off.

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