Cops Hope CCTV Audio Catches Thief

When the camera does not collect good images, is audio good enough to ID a suspect?

Police in Texas hope so. Catch this news story:

From the story:

"Floresville Police are hoping someone will be able to identify an armed robber who held up an Exxon gas station. A male suspect wearing an orange hoodie and bandana over his nose and mouth is heard on surveillance camera shouting at the clerk.

He shouts, "Give me all the **** money now!" He continues to make demands before heading out the door.

"Somebody out there is going to be able to identify him from the audio because of the way he speaks," added Detective Ortiz. Ortiz hopes the suspect’s voice will be the clue to catching him."

I totally understand trying to take advantage of all available information to catch a criminal, but this seems to place an unwise / unfair expectation on integrated audio performance of surveillance gear.

How often is audio recording expected of your surveillance systems? Do police often use it/ request it to help investigations?


They just need to 'run his voiceprint' downtown, case closed. :)

I totally understand trying to take advantage of all available information to catch a criminal, but this seems to place an unwise / unfair expectation on integrated audio performance of surveillance gear.

The cop does seem a bit too confident about the recognizability of the perp. clip, but maybe the cop is also trying to unnerve the robber; tell me, who doesn't cringe when they hear their own voice on playback? (besides people who hear it all the time)? If his voice wasn't distinctive before the incident, it might be now. And the audio might be enough for me to suspect (or clear) my neighbor who has a white chevy blazer and has been talking funny lately...

But one wonders if the audio was legal/intentional? Certainly there would have to be signs to that effect. Maybe its just a 'lucky' result of DIY home system, put in without even thinking about it.

If the fact that audio was being recorded was not disclosed to patrons*, and the prosecution were to try to use it as evidence, we could have one of those crazy ACLU cases where the defense would in effect argue that the robber's privacy rights were violated...

*Perhaps M.M. could be enticed to come out of semi-retirement and file a brief for this court?

Texas is a one party consent state. So no laws were violated in recording the store.

Texas is a one party consent state. So no laws were violated in recording the store.

Disagree. One party means "one party to the conversation". People not in the conversation cannot eavesdrop. The attendant who goes in the back to get a carton of cigarettes and listens to the dvr (or listens later), while I quietly tell my friend what my doctor said, is eavesdropping because they are not a party to that conversation.

Of course not all things overheard in public are eavesdropping (most aren't), that's why the universal test of "Did the person have a reasonable expecatation of privacy at the time" is applied. That is what the signs do, they remove my reasonable expectation of privacy.

And that's what would make the underlying case so comical, the ACLU might try arguing that the theif had a reasonable expectation of privacy when speaking (to anyone besides the attendant). Although I don't agree at all in that case, if you know the ACLU you'll know that an angle like that is quite typical and even mild compared to some of the other criminal rights cases they have taken and sometimes won!

So you're saying wiretapping laws were broken here?

Not necessarily.

I am saying that the premise

Texas is a one party consent state.

fails to support the conclusion of

So no laws were violated in recording the store.

due to the reasons I gave above.

But I would say that if

  1. no signs or other clear indications that audio monitoring was in use inside
  2. the recording quality was sufficient to hear conversations between patrons that a reasonable person would think would not be overheard
  3. it was intentional
  4. it wasn't a court-approved action

Then, IMHO, yes, illegal.

The video and audio is more than likely admissible in a criminal case regardless of the individual state law regarding “wiretapping” as long as the store did not install or activate the audio at the direction of the police department which is not likely the case in this situation. Evidence obtained by a private individual for the most part not held to the same discovery standards when it comes to probable cause or the legality of the persons actions in obtaining the item or information.

As an example, a subject who walks into his neighbor’s back yard and discovers a meth lab and drugs could turn this over to police and they in turn can use this as information for a warrant. Or a burglar who breaks into a house and discovers child porn on the victim’s computer and turns it over to the police. While there would could still be criminal charges brought against the trespassing neighbor or the burglar, the items taken are still evidence and likely admissible.

So, the video and audio for this suspect will be admitted.

Thanks for the reply, Mark.

Does a company/corporation (the operator of the gas station) have the same rights as a 'private individual' here?

So, the video and audio for this suspect will be admitted.

No, it cannot be admitted if in violation of wiretapping laws, per Federal Statute 18 - 2515

18 U.S.C. § 2515 : US Code - Section 2515: Prohibition of use as evidence of intercepted wire or oral communications

Whenever any wire or oral communication has been intercepted, no part of the contents of such communication and no evidence derived therefrom may be received in evidence in any trial, hearing, or other proceeding in or before any court, grand jury, department, officer, agency, regulatory body, legislative committee, or other authority of the United States, a State, or a political subdivision thereof if the disclosure of that information would be in violation of this chapter.*

This applies regardless of who obtained it. This is called a statutory exclusionary law. This law is NOT derived nor directly related to 4th amendment search and seizure limitations which, as you correctly point out, apply mainly to LE.

In addition some states have even more restrictive laws, although they are all bound to the minimum set by 2515.

*Violation of this chapter refers to 'wiretapping laws'.

So all the recordings provided by a victim of harassing telephone calls, or recorded death threats or even a pre text phone call are not allowed in as evidence? Interesting that I don't recall ever having a case rejected or the audio evidence provided rejected nor the DA ever saying why are you and everyone else in your department continuing to submit such evidence.

So all the recordings provided by a victim of harassing telephone calls, or recorded death threats or even a pre text phone call are not allowed in as evidence?

Of course they are admissible, but that is because in all of your examples the party doing the recording is one of the parties to the conversation!

Since Federal law requires only one of the parties consent, there would be no violation of the wiretapping law in the cases you site. But here we are talking about recording by someone not a party to the conversation, and that makes a big difference...

So do you recall any cases that involved a secret recording by a non-LE person, who was not part of the conversation? If you like I can provide cases where this law was used successfully. I didn't see any where the an illegal recording was introduced as evidence over the objection of 2515. But of course that doesn't mean it doesn't happen.

The business owner installed the system. With or without signs does he need to be present 24/7 to make any recording valid. To be a part of the conversation is there a reasonable distance limit to the party speaking that the owner must be standing. What if there was a sign but only one, what about 5 signs but the party said they never saw one. What about someone with their cell phone video recording some criminal activity in public and the did not post a sign or participate in the conversation. I don't think anyone here was talking about recording a conversation in a private setting that they were not a part of in some way or that the business owner did not know the cameras were even there. The question was could the audio be admissabble.

"18 U.S.C. § 2515 : US Code - Section 2515: Prohibition of use as evidence of intercepted wire or oral communications

Whenever any wire or oral communication has been intercepted, no part of the contents of such communication and no evidence derived therefrom may be received in evidence in any trial..."

"*Violation of this chapter refers to 'wiretapping laws'."

To be in violation, the statute (as I [a non-lawyer] read it) rests on the definition of the word 'intercepted'.

If the recordings weren't (legally) 'intercepted' - but merely recorded as per advertised store policy - then all the rest of those words are moot. nolo something-latin.

18 U.S.C. § 2510: Definitions - though the word is used in defining other terms, this section doesn't specifically define the term 'intercepted'.

However, I would think a strong case could be made that conversations taking place inside a convenience store (in particular, one with prominent signs regarding the stores audio recording policy) could be considered 'intercepted'.

I'm not sure if we agree or not, so let me just state how I read it and you tell me if its copasetic.

I think that the oral interception occurs anytime an audio listening device 'intercepts' or acts as a transducer of an oral communication, whether that signal is recorded or merely transmitted to a covert listener. An oral interception is neither legal or illegal in and of itself. Once you have an oral interception you then must determine if the disclosure of that information would violate any of the wiretap laws. If so it cannot be used as evidence.

My simplified guess is that: if the store is clearly communicating the fact that audio is being recorded, then they are not in violation, if they are not then very possibly they are.

My main point is that recording something and intercepting something are two different somethings themselves.

Intercept - to me - has a perjorative connotation... as in, to capture something one is not entitled to capture or somehow shouldn't be capturing.

The parties of the conversation in a convenience store can only have their words 'intercepted' if the parties are of the assumption that their conversation is only between themselves.

"However, I would think a strong case could be made that conversations taking place inside a convenience store (in particular, one with prominent signs regarding the stores audio recording policy) could be considered 'intercepted'."

This should have ended with 'could not be considered intercepted'

*It was so long-winded, I didnt notice the double positive until I read it again. :)

The question was could the audio be admissabble.

And then your answer was 'more than likely'. You supported your answer with only one argument, i.e. that it was irrelevant whether wiretapping laws were broken, the evidence would be admitted.

I then cited a Federal Wiretapping Statute (18 2515) which apparently states otherwise.

You did not object directly to my citation. Instead you proceeded to ask a series of rhetorical questions aimed at ridiculing the actual enforcement of the statute violations based on your experience. But here you provided only moot examples which are clearly not in violation to begin with.

Have I mistated anything in my paraphrase above? I ask only because I am going to assume you wish to modify your argument from wiretap laws are irrelevant to no wiretap laws were broken as your reason for the admissibility of evidence. If so, that is fine by me.

To be clear though, "the question is could the audio be admissabble?" was not anyone's actual or implied question. The only reason I can see that you might think that is because I said:

And that's what would make the underlying case so comical, the ACLU might try arguing that the theif had a reasonable expectation of privacy when speaking (to anyone besides the attendant). Although I don't agree at all...

But even then I was just saying it was likely the ACLU would file a motion to suppress, not that it should and would prevail. The reason: Because the theif's privacy rights are not violated since he is cleary not trying to be private, since he is yelling!

So you see we now agree, the evidence is 'most likely admissible' , we just differed (at first) on the reason. :)

Returning now to Brian's question of "whether wiretapping took place here.", I offered my conditions above. And though I agree that the theif's rights were not violated by the setup, it is an open question whether the store's audio recording, if indeed covert, has ever violated patrons privacy. But now I would like to offer some up naive speculation that I would love for you tear down mercilessly, if at all possible:

Namely, if the theif were caught due in part to the audio, and if a casual inspection of the in-store recording setup were to indicate possible and potential wiretap violations, might a clever defense attorney cause the evidence to be withdrawn simply by the filing the motion to supress, since it would require sworn statements supporting the foundation and reliability of the evidence, which might be self-incriminating and therefore something the store owner would wish to avoid. And therefore the prosecution would withdraw, if the case doesn't hinge upon it?

Plenty of audio on this pro-install (Spoiler Alert: No one seriously injured in scary bus crash)

Has anyone ever seen a "Audio Recording in Progress" sign on a bus? Or maybe the bus just beeps every 15 seconds to let you know...

I find this a little amusing. As most of you know, audio surveillance is not allowed in some states, and is in others, and in others, it is only allowed if properly posted suing warning signs. Audio recordings are treated differently than video, and they are a state issue. If audio recordings are legal in Texas, and the voice is distinct enough as to be singularly identified, why should they not be able to use it? People get convicted frequently of crimes using voice ID.

Likely the PD is looking for a voice ID so they can collect a list of suspects and hopefully gain a confession using normal investigative tactics. I have seen a number of cases where the culprit was brought to court and the recording played for the jury. Nothing helps a jury more than to hear him demand the money or else. A smart prosecutor never depends on it exclusively, but it is another nail in his coffin.

Does it put an unfair expectation on the audio performance? No, not in my opinion. I see it as being rougly the same as getting the last three digits of a license plate. You can't blame the system for that.

Agreed, it is strange how audio is treated differently than video, and normally more restrictively when it comes to legality. As in its possibly ok to record video of someone committing assault, without their prior kniwledge, but the audio of them making the threat before the fact might not be...

Video shows what we do, but audio tells what we think.. Which is the more damming, video showing me clearly assaulting someone or audio of me telling why I did it? I might be able get some juror sympathy for my actions, 'I just lost control when I heard what he had done.', but if my thoughts were known, 'I always hated him, and wanted to see him suffer', that would be more prejudicial, IMHO.

I have seen a number of cases where the culprit was brought to court and the recording played for the jury...

I think that in this case, everyone agreed that the particular clip would be admitted as a legal recording because the theif would not have an expectation of privacy, but it would be interesting to hear what some of the circumstances were in the cases you remember audio being played back, i.e. were they cctv recordings/did anyone challenge the audio etc...

My background is in Financial Institution security, so generally my experience is with banks, and I go back to the 80's with my experience. So that is my perspective. When a jury hears a bank robber say "give me the money or I will blow your d*&^ head off", and he has a gun pointed at her, his attorney can argue whatever he wants. Jurys love that. Never seen one that got off. Never. They go to jail every time. If the evidence was argued by anyone, I never heard it. Witnesses and jury members are typically not privy to that discussion. When asked to que up the tape (or DVD) or what ever, those issues have already been litigated.

You are right, you do get a sense of what the culprit is thinking by hearing him. Often times, that will do him in pretty fast. That's why video, in and of itself, can ocassionally be misrepresented. Not often but it does happen.

I mean, tell the truth...isn't there a part of you that would like to know what was really going through Tony Stuart's mind during that race this past weekend? The video can be represented any number of ways. What was his intent?

From what you have seen, is it the case that banks routinely record audio along with video? Is it the trend growing? Is it ever multichannel, one for each teller? With live supervisor access perhaps? (To improve customer service?).

Full disclosure: I was arrested in a bank once for forgery! Ok, only detained (no, not in the vault), until my shocked parents 'dropped charges' against me. I was nine or so and I had seen my mother write a check every week for $100 cash at the bank. So I ripped a check out of her book on the sly and crossed I-81 to get to the bank. I was pretty sure I knew what she wrote, but of course was smarter than her and made mine out for $1000. I really can't remember much except the high counter and standing in line behind tall people, eyeing me curiously. For several years after 'going straight' I was convinced that had I just made it out for $100, I wouldn't have got caught. And though I would love to know what was said, I never considered that maybe it was recorded, til now...

Regardless of wheter the audio is deemed admissible in court or not... I question if it's quality enough to be used to identify the perp.

I watched the clip... and that's both some low quality video and low quality audio. Now yes, in this case, with the perp's "disguise", even a good quality shot of him might not be sufficient evidence to identify... but that was some pretty low quality audio recording. I can tell it's a man, medium/low voiced, and the speech pattern points to certain cultural/ethnic markers... but as a former actor, I know that ALL of that can be easily faked.

Really... I think an outdoor camera catching liscence plates would have been a really good idea in this instance. I'm surprised a gas station with video surveilance didn't have such cameras in place.

Ok, this might blur the distinction between video and audio recording a little:

Researchers at MIT, Microsoft, and Adobe have developed an algorithm that can reconstruct an audio signal by analyzing minute vibrations of objects depicted in video. In one set of experiments, they were able to recover intelligible speech from the vibrations of a potato-chip bag photographed from 15 feet away through soundproof glass.

Trickery? Well, the frame rate was around 7000fps, so that ain't happening any time soon. But thanks to the 'quirk' of CMOS rolling shutter there's hope:

In other experiments, however, they used an ordinary digital camera. Because of a quirk in the design of most cameras' sensors, the researchers were able to infer information about high-frequency vibrations even from video recorded at a standard 60 frames per second. While this audio reconstruction wasn't as faithful as it was with the high-speed camera, it may still be good enough to identify the gender of a speaker in a room; the number of speakers; and even, given accurate enough information about the acoustic properties of speakers' voices, their identities.

Old video may actually contain extractable audio information. Just be careful what you say in front of a bag of chips...

Update: Suspect taken into custody after being recognized when clip at top was broadcast. No indication either way what part the audio played in recognition, but one would assume they were at least mutually confirming...

The face behind the voice?

If you've seen this one before, apologies. It's from 3 years ago and another case of security camera audio recording in a convenience store. Suspect was identified after the clip went viral.

In this case the audio actually made the suspect seem less threatening, even likeable. He got like 60 months anyway.

Its hard to imagine this guy shooting anyone though, "I'm sorry, sir, unfortunately now I need to fire my weapon at you. I'm really sorry about the discharge, and if both of us ever get back on our feet again..."