Encrypted Phones- Numerous arrests after National Crime Agency infiltrate the encrypted phone system “Enchrochat”
Yet another major Liverpool drugs trafficking ring has been blown open by police thanks to the unprecedented EncroChat messaging hack.
Reports this week of Detectives seized three kilos of cocaine from a van on the M42 in Worcester as part of a Merseyside investigation into a gang with links to south Liverpool and Wales.
A 54-year-old man from Rhyl was arrested at the scene while raids were also carried out in Garston, Aigburth and Rhyl leading to the seizure of £10,000 in cash, a cash-counting machine and a drugs press.
A 32-year-old man from Aigburth was arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to supply Class A drugs.
Merseyside Police said the arrests and searches were part of Operation Venetic – the UK response after French and Dutch authorities gained access to the servers of the secretive EncroChat encrypted communications service.
The service was used by thousands of serious organised criminals to control drugs trafficking networks, launder money and plot attacks on rivals including murders.
Encrochat and ‘Operation Venetic’
The National Crime Agency this week announced that it had infiltrated the secure messaging system ‘Encrochat’, said to be used exclusively by people engaging in criminal activity. Operation Venetic has so far resulted in 746 arrests, and the seizure of:
- Over £54million in cash
- 77 firearms, including an AK47 assault rifle, submachine guns, handguns, four grenades, and over 1,800 rounds of ammunition
- More than two tonnes of Class A and B drugs
- Over 28 million Etizolam pills (street Valium) from an illicit laboratory
- 55 high-value cars, and 73 luxury watches
Also, a specialist NCA team, working closely with policing partners, has prevented rival gangs carrying out kidnappings and executions on the UK’s streets by successfully mitigating over 200 threats to life.
The NCA says that:
“There were 60,000 users worldwide and around 10,000 users in the UK – the sole use was for coordinating and planning the distribution of illicit commodities, money laundering and plotting to kill rival criminals.”
The issue of encryption
There are three main issues with relying on encryption:
- Is it, in fact, secure?
- Is access to the device secure? So, by way of example, robust encryption, such as that offered by WhatsApp, is of little use if you can access your device with a four-digit pin.
- Is your criminal network to be trusted?
When the Operation Venetic cases reach court, the admissibility of any evidence taken from encrypted devices will need to be considered.
Questions to be answered include:
- Was there a commercial breach of confidentiality by the service provider?
- Was there an illegal seizure of devices, at any stage?
- Was a ‘Trojan Horse’ code put into place, and if so on what legal authority?
- What were surveillance/intercept authorisations deployed, if any, and was the legal framework followed?
- Were property and privacy rights infringed?
It is likely that these questions cannot be answered in isolation so far as the conduct of UK law enforcement is concerned, and that there will need to be focus on the interaction with foreign police forces and security services.
The prosecution will likely seek to assert public interest immunity to protect its investigation techniques (we have seen this tactic deployed in recent cases); this is a complex legal area which needs specialist defence team.
If you face investigation or prosecution, get in touch to ensure the highest quality legal representation.
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