The police have hacked thousands of phones. Is it legal?

In a week In October 2020, potential clients of Christian Lödden wanted to talk about only one thing. Everyone the German criminal defense lawyer spoke to had used the EncroChat encrypted phone network and was worried that their device had been hacked, potentially exposing a crime they might have committed. . “I have had 20 meetings like this,” says Lödden. “Then I realized—my God—the flood was coming.”

Months earlier, police across Europe, led by French and Dutch forces, disclosure they have compromised the EncroChat network. Malware that the police secretly installed on encrypted systems to steal more than 100 million messages, exposing the inner workings of the criminal underworld. People openly talk about drug trafficking, organized kidnapping, murder planand worse.

The break-in, one of the largest ever carried out by police, was an intelligence goldmine—with hundreds of people arrested, homes ransacked and thousands of kilograms of drugs seized. But that’s just the beginning. Fast forward two years, and thousands of EncroChat users across Europe—including in Britain, Germany, France and the Netherlands—are in prison.

However, a growing number of legal challenges are raising questions about hacking activity. The lawyers argued that investigations were flawed and that the hacked messages should not be used as evidence in court, saying rules around data sharing had been broken and the secrecy of The hack means the suspects don’t get a fair trial. At the end of 2022, a case in Germany was submitted to Europe’s highest court. If successful, the challenge has the potential to undermine criminal conviction across Europe. And experts say the fallout has implications for end-to-end encryption around the world.

“Even the bad guys have rights in our jurisdiction because we take great pride in our rule of law,” says Lödden. “We are not defending criminals or making excuses for crimes. We are defending the rights of those accused.”

Hack EncroChat

About 60,000 people signed up to the EncroChat phone network, founded in 2016, when it was arrested by police. According to the company’s website EncroChat, subscribers have paid thousands of dollars to use a custom Android phone that can “ensure anonymity”. ‘s phone security features includes encrypted chats, notes, and phone calls using version of the Signal protocol, as well as the ability to “panic wipe” everything on your phone and live customer support. Its camera, microphone, and GPS chip can all be erased.

The police that hacked the phone network did not appear to have broken its encryption, but instead compromised the EncroChat servers in Roubaix, France, and eventually pushed malware onto the devices. While little is known about how the hack took place or the type of malware used, 32,477 of EncroChat’s 66,134 users were affected in 122 countries, according to court documents. Document obtained by motherboard shows that all data on the phone is likely to be collected by investigators. This data is shared among law enforcement agencies involved in the investigation. (EncroChat claimed it was a legitimate company and closed itself after the hack.)

Across Europe, regulatory challenges are growing. In many countries, court ruled Messages from EncroChat can be used as evidence. However, these decisions are currently disputed. The cases, many of which have been report in detail via Weekly calculator, is complex: Each country has its own legal system with its own rules about the types of evidence that can be used and the process that prosecutors need to follow. For example, the UK largely does not allow “blocked” evidence will be used in court; meanwhile, Germany has high standards for allowing malware to be installed on phones.


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