Police Obtain Fingerprint Evidence from WhatsApp Photo in Drug Bust

Whatsapp Drug Bust Fingerprints

Image via South Wales Police / BBC

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We’ve heard a lot about how smartphone and data encryption is preventing law enforcement from successfully doing their jobs, but with all of the new and complex hacking tools at the disposal of those willing to pay, it’s safe to assume these concerns will eventually fade away.

In fact, some law enforcement agencies are already becoming craftier and more proactive in their attempts to extract and analyze data from smartphones belonging to suspected criminals.  

Sticky Fingers

Law enforcement with the South Wales Police Department recently utilized a photo extracted from the WhatsApp application on a smartphone belonging to a suspect who was ultimately arrested in the town of Bridgend, Wales, according to a BBC News report.

The image, which was allegedly published under the headline ‘Drugs for Sale’, shows bits-and-pieces of the suspect’s hand holding a transparent baggy determined to contain an assortment of colored ecstasy tablets.

Once the suspects were apprehended at their home in the Kenfig Hill, Bridgend sub-division of Wales, the above image was found on a smartphone which officers surveyed at the scene, prior to immediately being sent into the South Wales PD’s “scientific support unit” — where a team of forensics experts utilized a “pioneering fingerprint technique” to match the fingerprint up with the culprit.

While the image itself is somewhat blurry and unrevealing, as BGR pointed out, “It turns out that the visible part of a finger at the bottom of that photo was enough to extract a viable fingerprint that could then be used to identify the criminal,” which ultimately led officials to issue a total of 11 drug convictions in connection with the crime.

While these are believed to be among the first convictions ever handed down based on fingerprint evidence associated with a photo, Dave Thomas of the South Wales PD described the development as “groundbreaking” and noted that officers in his department will be paying extra close attention to photographs discovered on phones of those brought in on suspicion of criminality.

“It is an old-fashioned technique [fingerprinting], not new,” Thomas explained, adding that “Ultimately, beyond everything else, we took a phone and looked at everything on it – we knew it had a hand with drugs on it.”

“These guys [the dealers] are using the technology not to get caught and we need to keep up with advancements.”

A Family Affair

The situation came to law enforcement’s attention after they were allegedly tipped-off to a suspected drug operation, and, upon responding to the call, arrived at the scene and raided the home of Elliott Morris.

Morris allegedly headed “a family operation” with his father, Darren, and mother, Dominique. The trio was found to be harboring massive quantities of cannabis prior to the incriminating WhatsApp photo being discovered by an officer among a “stream of messages” found on Morris’ device.

“While the scale and quality of the photograph proved a challenge, the small bits were enough to prove he was the dealer,” Thomas noted, adding that “It has now opened the floodgates and when there is part of a hand on a photograph, officers are sending them in.”

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