Harnessing EXIF Data for Combating Wildlife Crimes

Harnessing EXIF Data for Combating Wildlife Crimes
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One of the must-have tools in the arsenal of wildlife law enforcement agencies for gathering evidences against the  wildlife criminals and for conducting scientific investigation into wildlife crimes is EXIF Data Viewer. EXIF (Exchangeable Image File Format) data is metadata that is embedded in a digital photo. Wildlife crime investigator can obtain many useful informations from metadata of the image such as information about the camera (make & model), date & time, GPS coordinates etc. These informations may play pivotal role in identifying the suspects, location and timeline of wildlife crimes. 

There are many tools available in the open source to extract EXIF Data from a digital image. These tools are called EXIF Data Viewer such as FotoForensics (https://fotoforensics.com/), PIC2MAP (https://www.pic2map.com/), METADATA2GO (https://www.metadata2go.com/), EXIF.tools (https://exif.tools/) etc. (Disclaimer: I am not promoting any particular EXIF Data Viewer. Investigating officials may use any available tool as per their policy and choice)

Let me explain how a wildlife crime investigator may use EXIF Data Tool to link a suspect with the crime by discussing following hypothetical crime scenario:

"Supposing one day a wildlife enforcement officer received an information about three poachers entering a tiger protected area for poaching a tiger. By the time wildlife enforcement team reaches there, the said poachers have already poached the tiger and fled away with canines, whiskers, claws and skin of the tiger. They left the mutilated tiger body there. After few days, wildlife enforcement zeroed in on those suspected poachers through their informants. When they conducted lawful searches at their residential premises, they found no physical evidences i.e. canines, whiskers, claws or skin of the tiger. But from photo gallery of mobile phone of one of the suspect, they found a photo of the poached tiger which appears to have been taken at the place of poaching. They also found photos of missing body parts of the poached tiger which the suspect has shared with buyers. EXIF Data of these photos were analysed by the wildlife enforcement officials using EXIF Data Tool. EXIF Data (such as Camera Make & Model, Date & Time of Photo & GPS Coordinates) established that the photo of the poached tiger was taken by the camera of the same mobile phone on the day of poaching and at the place of poaching itself. Similarly, EXIF Data of body parts of poached tiger also established that those photos were taken by same mobile camera at the residence of the suspect itself. Thus the suspect link with the tiger poaching and illegal trdae of its body parts were proved using EXIF Data. On the testimony of the accused, the other two poachers were also apprehended. But they denied the charge. Through Call Detail Record (CDR) of these suspects, it was established that all three were  present at the scene of crime on the date and time of the tiger poaching. The buyers of the tiger body parts were also apprehended subsequently and the wildlife forensic analysis of recovered body parts proved that they were of the same poached tiger. This is how this case of tiger poaching and illegal trade of its body parts was solved in which EXIF Data was the crucial evidence against the accused."

Now let me show how to use a EXIF Data Viewer Tool and what all information can be gathered from a digital photo. For this demonstration purpose I will be using FotoForensics (https://fotoforensics.com/):

EXIF Data will be gathered from following photo:

When this photo is uploaded on the FotoForensic Tool, following details or Metadata (along with the location on the map where the photo was taken) are retrieved from this photo:

As is evident from the information gathered from this photo using EXIF Data Viewer Tool, the wildlife crime investigator can obtain crucial evidences related to the wildlife crimes as also discussed in the hypothetical wildlife crime scenario above.

In a nutshell, EXIF Data can be used to corroborate other evidences and findings such as statements of witnesses, physical evidences such as poached wildlife or wildlife contraband being traded, digital communications records such as Call Detail Record (CDR) etc. to build a stronger case against the accused.

Thus, EXIF Data Viewer Tool can play a significant role in enhancing the investigative capabilities of wildlife law enforcement agencies to secure successful prosecutions of wildlife traffickers. 

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