Smartphone cameras have improved significantly over the years. So much so, that police were able to extract partial fingerprints from an image shared in WhatsApp of a man holding ecstasy tablets. The process for retrieving the fingerprint evidence was described as “groundbreaking” by Dave Thomas, a representative of the police force’s scientific support unit.
The drug dealer featured in the photo is the first conviction in Wales where fingerprints in a digital image played an integral role in the case.
Members of the South Wales Police’s scientific support unit were able to retrieve partial fingerprints of a suspect from an image in WhatsApp, and forensic scientists used those pieces to confirm that a suspect, who had already been apprehended, was a match to the prints.
Thomas said referred to fingerprinting as “an old-fashioned technique, not new,” according to a report by the BBC.
He added, “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 are using technology not to get caught, and we need to keep up with advancements.”
According to Thomas, a phone taken from a suspected drug dealer contained months’ worth of messages, including one with an image of the photo.
“It had a number of texts such as ‘What do you want to buy?’ on it,” he stated. “There was then the photograph of the hand holding pills that seemed like it was sent to potential customers saying, ‘These are my wares, I’m selling these.’”
“But he was not thinking it showed part of his hand, and there was potentially a fingerprint.”
In total, 11 arrests were made during the bust, though only one man had photographs of fingerprints used against him during his case.
Thomas said that the use of the image “opened the floodgates” as more law enforcement agencies are now exploring whether photographs of hands contain usable fingerprint evidence.
Based on the conviction, Thomas stated that local law enforcement agencies are examining photographs in seized phones more closely, treating them as sources for the newly realized form of potential evidence.