Rep. John Katko speaks on forensic science and national security at Maxwell

The congressman said forensic science is key to defending national security.

Rep. John Katko, chairman of the Homeland Security subcommittee on transportation security, delivered a keynote speech on the current trends of forensic science and national security at Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs on April 27. The congressman had a positive outlook when it comes to the future of forensic science.

Katko said his work experience in the Homeland Security subcommittee convinced him of the importance of forensic evidence in defending national security.

“It’s a great field, it’s a growing field, and it’s an important field.”
- Rep. John Katko

In drug cases, Katko said, DNA evidence is the key. DNA outside of drug bags aids in getting a conviction for the actual owner of the drugs. Mobile devices are also important for solving gang crimes. “Gang members love to take photos,” Katko said. 

Forensic evidence lowers the possibility of human error. James Spencer, executive director of the Syracuse University Forensic and National Security Sciences Institute, said when collecting evidence about 71 percent of errors are caused by eyewitnesses, 44 percent are police misconduct errors and over 19 percent come from dishonest informants.

“The top of juries trusts credibility of forensic science,” Katko said. “If you don’t have these evidence at the case, they want to know why.”

Katko also highlighted the importance of digital forensics. The Homeland Security department is heavily dependent on forensic science specialists to recover original files from suspects’ computers when dealing with child pornography cases. Audio encryption is also frequently applied to capture photo calls in international crimes as well.

“It’s not only for the national security, but also on regular basis,” he said.

In the business world, there is an increasing need for forensic specialists to defend company’s internal security. Katko said, big corporations like Sony Co. hired experts to “identify the source of cyber attacks.”

Danielle Lindgren, a gradate biomedical forensic science student, said she is looking forward to the future of digital forensic science. The advancement in technologies in the latest five years ensures a forward movement in digital forensic fields and further application in more fields.

“It’s a great field, it’s a growing field, and it’s an important field,” Katko said.

Adam Weinstein, a graduate biomedical forensic science student, showed his concerns towards lack of specialists in the forensic science field.

Katko agreed that more sources are needed in the forensic science field. He admitted there is a huge imbalance between the number of evidence requests and the number of digital forensic experts. Especially when under the circumstances some evidence needs months to analyze, the shortage of resource becomes a major disadvantage.

“Digital forensics is got to be going forward and it is an area for schools to go, ” he said.

This two-day event talking about current trends and future opportunities and challenges of forensic science was hosted by Syracuse University Forensic National Institute, Maxwell School of Public Affairs and Oak Ridge Associated Universities. It will continue on Thursday, May 7, beginning at 9:30 a.m. in Eggers Hall. It will further feature the relationship between effective forensic science and scientific needs of national security interests, including intelligence, defense, health and criminal justice.

The organizers at Maxwell said that having Congressman Katko speak is a unique and inspiring opportunity.

“It’s the very first open dialogues between forensic experts and national security leaders," Spencer said. "It’s an intersection of science, law and policy."

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