Police in South Wales employed a pioneering fingerprint technique which led to the conviction a drug ring. An image of a man holding ecstasy tablets in his palm was discovered on the cell phone of one of the detained suspects. It was then sent to the Scientific Support Unit of the South Wales Police.
Dave Thomas, who works at the unit, described its use as "groundbreaking." He also said that it has spurred officers into more closely examining photos found on mobile devices that are collected as evidence. Thomas pointed out that it’s actually, "an old-fashioned technique [fingerprinting], not new.” And, he went on to explain that, "these guys [the dealers] are using the technology not to get caught and we need to keep up with advancements."
The incriminating photo emerged following a tip-off which indicated drug deals were taking place in a house in Bridgend. At that point, a raid ensued in which large quantities of Gorilla Glue - a type of cannabis - were found.
The photo was part of a stream of WhatsApp messages dating back several months. Thomas said: "It had a number of texts such as 'what do you want to buy?' on it. 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.'”
He added that, “while the scale and quality of the photograph proved a challenge, the small bits were enough to prove he was the dealer." Thomas also commented that, "it has now opened the floodgates and when there is part of a hand on a photograph, officers are sending them in." Making greater use of social media messages is just one area currently being developed.
"We want to be in a position where there is a burglary at 20:30, we can scan evidence and by 20:45 be waiting at the offender's front door and arrest them arriving home with the swag," he concluded.
WhatsApp has been the unfortunate focus of other news recently, due to being owned by Facebook. Some allege that WhatsApp may not be as secure as it is claimed.
As reported in Economic Times:
"One-to-one communication between users are encrypted and may be as secure as WhatsApp claims. But the metadata, information about the calls, is likely being mined by the company," Vivek Wadhwa, a top American technology entrepreneur and academic, told PTI.
"WhatsApp has admitted that it is sharing information about identity and device information with Facebook, allowing it to do the dirty work in snooping on users.
"What I found most worrisome is that WhatsApp's group chat feature allows any group member to mine data like Cambridge Analytica, and what is worse, they reveal mobile numbers. So people can be harassed off the platform," he said.
Wadhwa points out that the group chat feature of WhatsApp places users at greater risk than posting on Facebook because of the availability of cell phone numbers. "WhatsApp users take the company at its word that 'Privacy and Security is in our DNA'. It clearly isn't. There are major design flaws in its chat features," he charged.
The news of the technique involving a WhatsApp photo used by law enforcement coupled with criticism of WhatsApp’s policies and its relationship to Facebook may lead to a decline in usage. Especially by users for whom privacy and discreet communications are of the utmost importance--law enforcement, intelligence agents, jihadists, hackers and others.
One of WhatsApp’s founders left the app behind and also warned his followers to delete Facebook. “It is time,” Brian Acton’s post read and was accompanied by the hashtag #deletefacebook. It was not readily apparent whether Acton’s views on Facebook extend to WhatsApp, but Acton did recently invest $50 million in Signal, which is another encrypted messaging app.