There has been considerable debate in these pages on the topic of EXIF data.
In short, the gist of the stories is that FBI Senior Forensic Examiner Brian Booth testified at the trial of Keith Raniere that EXIF data is hard to change. Suneel Chakravorty, who has Keith Raniere’s power of attorney, said it is easy.
It wasn’t hard to find information online that supported what Chakravorty said: EXIF data is not hard to change.
I could not find anything to support FBI Senior Examiner Booth’s testimony.
For my part, I simply did an online search for how to change EXIF data and found many opportunities to learn how to do it.
One article on LifeHacker.com by Brenden Hesse, What Is EXIF Data, and How to Remove It From Your Photos, shows us how and entirely contradicts what the FBI senior forensic examiner said about how difficult it is to change EXIF data.
Anyone can change EXIF data, according to Hesse. There’s nothing to it.
Hesse wrote, “EXIF data can tell you a lot about a photo, but you can easily remove or modify metadata… Programs like Adobe’s Photoshop or Lightroom let you edit EXIF data, and social media platforms like Instagram, Imgur, and Twitter strip EXIF data out of an image before it’s uploaded.”
Evidently, if you have a Windows desktop you can do it without downloading software.
- Right-click an image file you have saved.
- Select “Properties.”
- Select the “Details” tab.
- Click “Remove Properties and personal information.”
- Select whether you want to create a backup with all possible metadata removed, or simply remove the data you specify without making a copy.
- Click each piece of information you want to delete, then click “OK.”
So, Hesse says you can do it easily.
If you can believe a number of YouTube videos, the average consumer can learn to remove EXIF data in minutes.
“How To Remove Metadata From Photos” shows how to strip EXIF data on photos in three minutes.
Another YouTube video, “How To Edit and Remove MetaData from Images” is less than two minutes long.
It shows how to change and remove EXIF data, including the date and time the photo was created, something that FBI agent Booth said was very hard to do.
It goes on and on.
Here is another by Christopher Blacken, who recommends the free software, ExifTool, to alter EXIF data.
There are other videos on YouTube that show how to change EXIF data without ruining or corrupting the file. It is hard to imagine why Booth would say it is hard to change.
One can understand that the prosecutors, Mark Lesko and Moira Kim Penza, who are not tech experts, could say that EXIF data might be hard to change. They were merely repeating testimony of the FBI senior forensic expert.
Still, it sticks in my craw that Brian Booth said EXIF data is hard to remove or change.
It is not.
Here are additional links to videos that, frankly, make Booth look ether incompetent or a liar. By the way, this is not brand new technology. Some of these videos were published before Booth gave his testimony in 2019.
Does Not Mean FBI Tampered
Just because Booth said EXIF data is hard to remove or change, does not mean the FBI tampered with the Cami photos.
The EXIF data might have been accurate and Booth might have lied about it being hard to change so that the jury would believe the EXIF data dates on the photos.
Still, it was not true that EXIF data is hard to change. Booth must have known it was not true.
When he said “most commercial software will not touch EXIF data,” he was far from telling the whole truth if not outright lying.
Because, yes, there are commercial software applications that can do more than “touch” EXIF data. There are free software applications that can change EXIF data. Software can add, remove, and alter EXIF data.
When Booth said, “They purposely designed it [EXIF data] that way… they don’t want data to be moved around and changed, especially time and date information,” and, “But when it comes to photos, they still keep you from changing dates and times. It’s not easy to change those,” he was not telling the truth.
Widely available, free software designed to alter EXIF data makes it easy to change dates and times.
Forensic examiner Booth claims to have had 13 years experience in the FBI forensic lab. He must know that EXIF data can be changed simply and easily. And when he said “they purposely designed” it so it was hard to change, he was not telling the truth.
They designed it so it was easy to change, for the convenience of photographers or anyone who wants privacy.
EXIF data is not hard to change.
At best, Booth told a half-truth BOOTH: “Those things are very hard for the consumer to be able to modify, unless you wind up getting software that’s just developed to do that.”
Booth is being deliberately misleading here. Sure, technically, it’s hard to modify EXIF data without the free software that anyone can get, but he doesn’t say that. He is not being forthright. EXIF data is easy to change, and I could teach anyone, even someone with the most minimal computer skills, in a matter of 20 minutes without a trace.
So why I am wasting time on this? Because it bothers me that someone from the FBI should get on the stand and testify wrongly about anything.
Booth testified falsely and he knows it.
That’s wrong and I know it.