ISO-17025 Mandatory for Digital Forensics in the Criminal Justice System

19 September 2017

FSR Mandatory Accreditation – October 2017

From October 2017 onwards, the Forensic Science Regulator’s (FSR) Code of Practice stipulates that all providers of Digital Forensic services to the criminal justice system must be accredited to ISO-17025. The position that the FSR has establish has been delayed several times already – the deadline was moved due to the scale of the challenge facing law enforcement agencies in particular. The same challenge faced private sector organisations as well.

The FSR has a Code of Practice and Conduct which providers of forensic scientific evidence are required to follow. Within that there are several milestones which are stipulated for Digital Forensic laboratories. The standard takes a phased approach to the introduction of accreditation – by October 2017 it is expected that laboratories will be accredited for forensic data acquisition / imaging and extraction of data from Hard Disk Drives, Mobile devices and removable media including remote storage.  Extraction and Analysis of data are also covered. Data capture and analysis from networks is set to become mandatory from October 2018 (subject to confirmation).

Other areas which are considered as being prospects for mandatory accreditation include Cell Site analysis and communications data, plus the capture and analysis of social media and open source data. No dates have been specified for these two area. A trial and consultation exercise is already underway in respect of cell site analysis, although early indications are that this is proving to be a difficult area to define effective standards and regulate.

The rationale for making accreditation mandatory is to ensure that there are consistent standards applied within the field, and that the Courts may place reliance on the validity and scientific basis for evidence used within the criminal justice system. Overall accreditation is designed to ensure that scientific method translates to increased levels of public confidence and trust in the evidence used within criminal justice.

Progress on Accreditation

The Forensic Science Regulator, Dr Gillian Tully, acknowledges that many organisations providing digital forensic evidence to the Courts in criminal trials will not have achieved the required accreditation to ISO 17025 and the FSR Codes of Practice and Conduct by the deadline. Dr Tully, stated in her 2015 – 2016 Annual Report, “… the current progress of many organisations means that, even with additional intervention, it is highly unlikely that they will meet the requirement for accreditation of digital forensic activities by October 2017. This means that for a substantial proportion of digital evidence produced after that date, disclosure of non-compliance will be required.

At the time of writing, there are four commercial laboratories which are accredited to ISO 17025 along with the Competition & Markets Authority and 9 (nine) police force laboratories that have achieved accreditation. There is therefore still much progress to be made. The time, energy and effort invested is significant. Accredited laboratories have demonstrated that they have robust processes, systems and competent staff in place within their scope of accreditation.

Well done to all digital forensic professionals who have “taken the bull by the horns” and got stuck in to achieving what is a tough accreditation.

Useful Resources

UKAS Accredited Laboratories

Forensic Science Regulator – website

Forensic Science Regulator – Methods Validation

Forensic Science Regulator – Codes of Practice and Conduct


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