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United Kingdom Technology Science

Electrical Grid Hum Used To Time Locate Any Digital Recording 168

illtud writes "It appears that the Metropolitan Police in London have been recording the frequency of the mains supply for the past 7 years. With this, they claim to be able to pick up the hum from any digital recording and tell when the recording was made. From the article: 'Comparing the unique pattern of the frequencies on an audio recording with a database that has been logging these changes for 24 hours a day, 365 days a year provides a digital watermark: a date and time stamp on the recording.'"
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Electrical Grid Hum Used To Time Locate Any Digital Recording

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  • Re:Still sceptical (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Fleetie ( 603229 ) on Friday December 14, 2012 @04:31AM (#42284931) Homepage
    Re: Location: Wrong. The entire UK grid is "locked together" and it all runs at the same frequency. Necessarily. Also: Recorder doesn't need to be plugged into the mains. 50Hz hum permeates the space around us. Try grabbing hold of an oscilloscope lead and look at how much 50Hz hum you are "carrying". Unless you're a long way from mains outlets, it's a lot.
  • Re:Still sceptical (Score:5, Insightful)

    by StoneyMahoney ( 1488261 ) on Friday December 14, 2012 @05:04AM (#42285041)

    You can hear 50hz. It won't be stripped out, although it's such a low volume noise you'll need some funky recovery algorithms to pick it out - oh look, those have been around for a while now. I'd be interested to hear exactly how accurately they can pinpoint the time and date. Are we talking to within a few hours, or are there sufficiently frequent irregular fluctuations you can do pattern matching to pin it down precisely to the second?

    I do have my doubts over how resiliant this technique would be to forgery. If the police can record the hum, so can human beings. Say you wanted to have a conversation with someone verified by police as taking place after it really did. You record the conversation, use live hum data to cancel it out without damaging the audio, then a week later you record and mix in some fresh live hum noise. Can't see any decent sound engineer with the right equipment having any trouble with that, I know a guy who'd have a whale of time with it, and there goes any hope of this evidence ever standing up in court.

  • by MancunianMaskMan ( 701642 ) on Friday December 14, 2012 @05:27AM (#42285117)
    Now here's an idea for an even cooler application: A web service which allows customers to upload any edited audio recording and I can apply a subtle hum with a user-selected timestamp so it authenticates as "not edited original recording" with the Met Police's database! I shall start recording the mains hum shortly. Criminals rejoice! Huahahahahaha!
  • Re:Great... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by locofungus ( 179280 ) on Friday December 14, 2012 @07:20AM (#42285489)

    As with so many of these forensic tests, what this test can unambiguously be used for is to prove that a recording _HAS_ been tampered with.

    If there is no hum, or it appears to be correct then the most you can say is "it might be a genuine recording made at the appropriate time" but if there is hum, and it's obviously discontinuous then you can categorically state that the recording has been tampered with.

    Unfortunately, most people, including prosecutors, defence, juries, judges, politicians etc, do not understand the distinction. There are two possible answers to "has this recording been tampered with:" YES and I DON'T KNOW. People like certainty so this gets changed to YES and NO and while in most cases that NO does turn out to be correct, you get miscarriages of justice when it's not the case.


"Well, it don't make the sun shine, but at least it don't deepen the shit." -- Straiter Empy, in _Riddley_Walker_ by Russell Hoban