Crime / Data / Technology

This DC company helps prosecutors use emojis as evidence in the courtroom ?

Yes, really. For CEO Joe Sremack, it's been both a technical and a cultural challenge.

Go learn about emojis and the law. (Photo by Flickr user Intel Free Press, used under a Creative Commons license)

What’s your most-used emoji? And what does its use convey to you?
Say what you will about modern, mobile communication, but much of it is non-verbal. We’ve got memes, we’ve got GIFs, we’ve got emojis. And beyond being funny, pithy or poignant, they can also be truly important parts of “speech.” When we integrate non-verbal communication into our mobile “speech,” we end up using it in all kinds of circumstances — from telling a friend a joke to admitting guilt in a crime.
But there’s a problem here — how can investigators and prosecutors examine non-verbal communication alongside more traditional evidence? How can they even find such parts of “speech” amid mountains of mobile data?
This is the problem that D.C.-based “digital investigations company” Boxer Analytics is stepping in to solve. Through proprietary software and consulting, Boxer Analytics helps investigators, law enforcement and prosecutors sift through social media and mobile communications data — searching for pertinent non-verbal cues and conducting sentiment analysis based on the context.
It’s exciting stuff, but also very, very new.
Boxer Analytics CEO Joe Sremack told that, until about two years ago, there was essentially no case law involving emojis or other non-verbal forms of “speech.” But that’s changing — Sremack said he’s seen about 30 cases in the past year and anticipates that this trend will continue.
Because now, let’s be real, there’s a phone involved in every crime. And along with that phone comes a trove of communication data, amid which emojis are likely found and possibly important. You won’t know until you search.
Sremack cites up the case of an “international sports governing body” (hmm) in which there were over 100 phones that needed to be searched. Who was talking to whom about what? Traditional searches for keywords amid the communication (“Money,” let’s say, for instances related to corruption) can yield some results, but what if the users of those phones sent a ? or ? emoji instead? This is precisely what Boxer Analytics’ UniSearch Pro software allows investigators access to.
In legal tech, though, it’s not just a question of technological capability. There also needs to be a general understanding of and consensus on emojis (or memes or GIFs) as evidence.
“It was a technical challenge,” Sremack said, of creating his software. “But I think the bigger challenge has been trying to understand why emojis aren’t understood as evidence in the courtroom.” This cultural challenge, though, is exciting for Sremack. “Generally, the legal world is going to be two to five years behind technology,” he said.
But from his perspective, there’s something thrilling about working on a solution to a problem that’s just beginning to be acknowledged.


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