Encrochat and ‘Operation Venetic’

This week, the National Crime Agency proclaimed that it had infiltrated a secure messaging system ‘Encrochat’, said to be used exclusively by individuals involved in various forms of criminal activity.

Resulting in 746 arrests so far, Operation Venetic has also led to the seizure of:

  • In excess of £5.4m in cash
  • More than 75 firearms, including an AK47 assault rifle, Uzi and Skorpian submachine guns, handguns, multiple grenades, and nearly 2000 rounds of ammunition
  • In excess of two tonnes of Class A and Class B drugs
  • More than 28 million Etizolam pills (Street Valium) from an illegal lab
  • 55 luxury cars, and over 70 high-end watches

As well as seizing large amounts of weapons and drugs, the NCA, working closely in collaboration with policing partners, has foiled the plans of gangs to carry out kidnappings and executions on our nation’s streets by successfully mitigating more than 2000 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 issues surrounding encryption

There are three main issues with relying on encryption:

  1. How secure is it really?
  2. Does the security of your device pose a security weakness? For example, the robust encryption offered by WhatsApp is of limited use if the device your using can be accessed with a 4 digit pin code, allowing your WhatsApp messages to be read at source.
  3. Can your criminal network be trusted?

Evidential Issues

When cases resulting from Operation Venetic start to reach court, our focus will be on the admissibility of any evidence acquired from encrypted devices.

We will be looking at the following issues:

  1. Is there evidence that the service provider committed a commercial breach of confidentiality?
  2. Was the seizure of the device carried out in compliance with the law?
  3. In instances where ‘Trojan Horse’ code was used, was it used appropriately and on what legal authority.
  4. Were legal frameworks followed during the deployment of surveillance/ intercept authorisations?
  5. Was there infringement of defendant’s property and privacy rights?

It is unlikely that these questions can be answered in isolation so far as the conduct of UK law enforcement is concerned, and that we will need to pay close attention to the interaction with foreign police forces and security services.

It is likely that the prosecution will attempt to assert public interest immunity to protect its investigation techniques (a tactic we have seen deployed in recent cases); this is a complex legal area that we have considerable familiarity and experience of, so can offer you the expertise required to meet such challenges head-on.

If you face the prospect of investigation or are facing prosecution, contact us now to ensure specialist legal representation.

[Image credit: National Crime Agency, Crown Copyright reproduced under licence]

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