The word forensics derives from FORENSIS, Latin for ‘pertaining to the forum’. The Roman forum was a multidimensional space of politics, law, and economy, in contrast to the narrower contemporary understanding of forensics as the application of science within a legal framework. Extending from DNA analysis to image surveillance and digital eavesdropping, contemporary forensic practices provide one of the means by which state agencies survey, police and judge individuals under their control.
COUNTER FORENSICS is a civil practice that seeks to invert the institutionalised forensic gaze, with individuals and organisations taking over the means of evidence production, and turning the state’s means against the violence it commits. It puts forward a new FORENSIS in which civil society groups use a variety of scientific and aesthetic means to produce and present evidence in the pursuit of public accountability.
Besides the FORUM where evidence is presented, traditional forensics operates across two other domains, namely: the FIELD, where incidents unfold; and the LABORATORY, where evidence is processed.
A foundational principle of forensics since the turn of the twentieth century (the era of figures pivotal to modern forensics, such as French police officer Alphonse Bertillon and Swiss forensic scientist Rudolphe A. Reiss) is that the police must maintain an advantage over the individuals they pursue across these three domains: in the FIELD, this advantage is manifested in exclusive access to a site; in the LABORATORY it exists through the availability of technical means of evidence production; while in the FORUM, the advantage is enacted in the state’s determination of the protocols of institutional justice.
COUNTER FORENSICS therefore has to contend with a starting point of optical and epistemological inferiority. Evidence of state violence is regularly withheld, obscured or degraded, and access to established FORUMS for the presentation of evidence is often denied to those contesting state crimes.
To invert these principles, COUNTER FORENSICS must make use of a multitude of forms of evidence: open source, citizen-produced media on blogs and social media posts; state documents released through freedom of information requests; or materials sourced and released via hacks and leaks. Such evidence is often produced by those experiencing violence, reflecting their situated knowledge, a perspective that is often unavailable to the perpetrators.
This form of COUNTER FORENSICS cannot always rely on established FORUMS such as courts or official inquiries in order to present its findings. Its evidence is often excluded from these contexts, necessitating its diffusion across multiple other channels and media, or the establishment of alternative FORUMS such as people’s tribunals or online platforms.