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:

  1. Is it, in fact, secure?
  2. 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.
  3. Is your criminal network to be trusted?

Evidential Issues

When the Operation Venetic cases reach court, we will be focussing on the admissibility of any evidence taken from encrypted devices. 

Questions to be answered include:

  1. Was there a commercial breach of confidentiality by the service provider?
  2. Was there an illegal seizure of devices, at any stage?
  3. Was a ‘Trojan Horse’ code put into place, and if so on what legal authority?
  4. What were surveillance/intercept authorisations deployed, if any, and was the legal framework followed?
  5. 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 we will need to focus sharply 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 that we are familiar with, so can meet such challenges head-on.

If you face investigation or prosecution, get in touch to ensure the highest quality legal representation. 

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

How can we help?

If you need specialist advice, then get in touch with Oliver Gardner on 0161 8722 9999 or law@howardssolicitors.co.uk and let us help. We can advise on a plea, defences and potential sentences in a wide range of circumstances.