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The world's first ever space detective agency has been formed to find authentic satellite imagery for people to use in court.

Two experts, satellite imaging specialist Raymond Harris and space lawyer Raymond Purdy, both from the University College London, have set up the company Air & Space Evidence Ltd of London.

Using their combined knowledge of space-based photographic databases and Earth observation privacy law, they hope to give everyone the chance to use space imagery in court as evidence.

Images from satellites and drones can be used by insurance companies to investigate fraud, local councils trying to cut down on fly-tipping, or just general members of the public settling personal disputes.

Finding the right picture to use as evidence is not as simple as using Google Earth, and could mean hours of searching through databases, only to have the authenticity of the image questioned.

"Trials have been collapsing because courts cannot be convinced of the authenticity of image data," Purdy told New Scientist.

"Because it is always possible to modify a digital image, you need strong archiving procedures plus information on when it was captured and what happened to it subsequently," Harris added. "We know how to do that."

By using their knowledge of the databases of space image suppliers, and their previous experience of being expert witnesses in satellite imagery cases, the pair will be able to provide images that have enough evidence behind them to stand up in court.

If a higher resolution of an area is needed, the agency plans to use drones to capture aerial imagery, depending on local aviation and privacy laws.

Joanne Wheeler, a space lawyer, has used satellite imagery as evidence in three cases.

One of them was a murder case, and Wheeler was having trouble locating images for a certain time frame. By using space imagery, she was able to fill in the gaps.

"There is a need for space detectives," said Wheeler. "If you are looking for imagery in the past it is difficult to find exactly what you are looking for."