Taiwan Government’s Initiative to Secure Forensic Evidence with Blockchain

An app named “Authentication of Forensic Evidence with Blockchain (AFEB)” was first launched on a symposium hosted by the app’s developer, the Taiwan Investigation Bureau, Ministry of Justice (IBMOJ) on April 24, 2019.

According to the IBMOJ’s press release, before the launch of the said app, forensic reports in Taiwan were prepared in hard copy. The electronic copy was for reference only and was formed after the hard-copy report was physically signed by a forensic examiner and a laboratory director. With the advent of the digital age, forensics becomes heavily relied on digital evidence which amplifies hard-copy reports’ shortcomings, such as the prolonged delivery timeframe, the risk of damage, and most of all, the difficulty in authenticating the evidence.  For authentication purposes, examiners were often summoned to give testimony at court hearings on how they performed the examination and prepared the reports, and they were occasionally requested to repeat the examination and produce a video footage thereof to the court.

So how does this app actually work? The IBMOJ’s press release explained:

The “Authentication of Forensic Evidence with Blockchain (AFEB)” app is the first of its kind in the world, combining the technologies of “hash value” to validate the authenticity of digital evidence and “blockchain” which renders a time-stamped, open and unalterable network. The aim is to ensure that the hashed and chained examination report is admissible at court, thereby solving the shortcomings of hard-copy reports.

This system can generate and attach a corresponding digital fingerprint (in the form of a hash value) to any electronic file of evidence or examination results to be included in an examination report. The digital fingerprints are automatically recorded on an Ethereum blockchain via the “Forensic Report Winding System”, a smart contract system also developed by IBMOJ. On the other hand, judges, prosecutors, and defense lawyers are able to check the hash value (encoded in a QR code) with a scanner app called “Forensic Report Authentication” to be installed in their cell phones, so as to verify that no tampering with any materials contained in the examination report has occurred.

To round-off its blockchain project, the IBMOJ’s next move is to develop another app called “Authentication of Retrieved Cloud Evidence with Blockchain (ARCEB)”, which will generate and post a hash value onto blockchain for any material stored in IBMOJ’s evidence cloud when the material is downloaded. This app is expected to be launched by the end of 2019, according to the same news release.

In the past, IBMOJ was often challenged in court that digital evidence (usually taking the form of emails, Facebook data, cloud hard drives) seized by frontline investigators on the premises of a suspect or witness was later tampered with.  The writer believes when the blockchain project becomes complete and digital evidence can be formed and chained timely and properly, the past issues will be greatly reduced.

In the field of IP law, similar needs for real-time validation of evidence and prevention of evidence tampering may arise in areas like preparing prior use defense, and preservation of evidence related to inventorship, copyright authorship or trademark registrant’s use of its mark. Whether the Taiwanese government or other public sector will take initiative in these areas is worthy of the IP Community’s attention.