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EUROPEAN POLICE CRACK ENCRYPTED PHONES, NAB HUNDREDS

European police delivered a major blow to organized crime after cracking an encrypted communications network, allowing them to covertly watch “over the shoulder” of criminals in real time as they planned drug trafficking, arms sales, assassinations and torture, officers announced Thursday, Mike Corder wrote for the Associated Press (AP) on July 3, 2020.


The massive cross-border probe started in 2017 when French police began investigating phones using the EncroChat secure communication tool and ultimately were able to work around the encryption to gain direct access to users’ communications.

“It was as though we were sitting at the table where criminals were chatting among themselves really,” said Jannine van den Berg, chief of the Dutch National Police Force. European police and judicial authorities said they expect the investigation to send shockwaves through organized crime gangs across the continent. The encrypted platform was used by 60,000 people worldwide, including around 10,000 in Britain, British police said. The service pushed a message to all its users on June 13 alerting them that their systems had been breached and urging users to throw away their phones, European Union (EU) police agency Europol added.

The agency said EncroChat sold its “cryptotelephones” for around 1,000 euros each and offered subscriptions with worldwide coverage for 1,500 euros for six months. Britain’s National Crime Agency said it used EncroChat data to launch investigations that led to the arrest of 746 suspects and the seizure of more than 54 million pounds ($68 million) in criminal cash, 77 firearms and more than 2 tons of drugs. “Together we’ve protected the public by arresting middle-tier criminals and the kingpins, the so-called iconic untouchables who have evaded law enforcement for years, and now we have the evidence to prosecute them,” said NCA Director of Investigations Nikki Holland.

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