Top 10 Crime, National Security & Law Stories of 2021

Increasingly, intelligence services and government are vocal in campaigns for access to the content of encrypted messages from the public on Facebook, WhatsApp and other encrypted messaging services.

Government and industry are trying to develop a technical solution that will both preserve the integrity of communications and allow the state to mass analyze messages for criminal content.

Apple has suspended plans to install software on smartphones to automatically scan and report child pornography content in messages before they are encrypted. Top computer scientists and cryptographers had condemned the program as impractical, vulnerable to abuse, and a step towards warrantless or suspicious mass surveillance. The former CEO of GCHQ’s National Cyber ​​Security Center argued that end-to-end encryption should be allowed unless a technical compromise acceptable to the tech industry and crypto experts can be found.

In practice, law enforcement and intelligence agencies have turned to “equipment interference” (also known as computer network exploitation or hacking) to bypass end-to-end encryption altogether.

Police forces in the UK, Europe and the US have collaborated on three major operations to hack encrypted telephone networks used by organized crime groups, leading to thousands of arrests around the world.

The use of equipment interference to access encrypted telephone messages has far-reaching implications for the future use of interception evidence in court.

For the past 65 years, the UK has banned the use of intercepted evidence in court hearings. Following a court ruling in February, evidence of interception obtained by “equipment interference” can now be submitted to juries.

1. EncroChat: the court of appeal judges “digital wiretapping” admissible in criminal proceedings

The judges ruled that communications collected by French and Dutch police from the EncroChat encrypted telephone network using software “implants” are admissible evidence in UK courts.

British law prohibits law enforcement from using evidence obtained during interceptions in criminal trials, but three judges discovered on February 5, 2021 that material gathered by French and Dutch investigators and passed on to National Crime UK Agency had been legally obtained through “equipment interference”.

“Today’s verdict implies that interception, or ‘eavesdropping’ – copying other people’s live private calls and messages – does not make clear sense in the digital age,” said Duncan Campbell , who acted as a forensic expert in the accused’s case.

2. Police Hack World’s Largest Crypto Network As Criminals Swap EncroChat for Sky ECC

When the French Gendarmerie, Dutch Police and the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) infiltrated the EncroChat encrypted telephone network last summer, organized crime groups around the world chose to switch to a new phone provider.

That provider was Sky ECC, now the world’s largest crypto communications provider, with 70,000 customers.

Sky ECC bills itself as the “most secure messaging platform you can buy” and is so confident in the impregnability of its systems that it offers a nice reward to anyone who can break the encryption of any of its systems. phones.

But in a resumption of last year’s French and Dutch operation against the EncroChat encrypted telephone network, Belgian and Dutch police managed to infiltrate the platform and harvest hundreds of thousands of allegedly unbreakable messages.

3. The FBI Planned An Attack On An0m Cryptophone Users Over Drinks With Australian Investigators

Three years ago, the FBI began planning a sophisticated attack that led to the arrest of 800 suspected organized criminals in raids around the world.

Police have since carried out hundreds of searches, seizing drugs, firearms, luxury vehicles and cash in coordinated operations in several countries.

The targets were organized crime groups who had trusted an encrypted phone app called An0m to organize drug deals, kidnappings and assassinations.

An informant working for the FBI sold An0m Android phones on the black market, claiming it offered users highly secure encrypted messaging services.

4. Government is putting pressure on Facebook to stop end-to-end encryption on child abuse risks

Home Secretary Priti Patel used a conference hosted by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) to warn that end-to-end encryption will severely erode the ability of tech companies to control illegal content, including child abuse and terrorism.

The Home Secretary’s intervention is the latest salute in a long-standing battle by ministers and intelligence agencies against the growth of end-to-end encryption.

Speaking at a roundtable hosted by the NSPCC to discuss “next steps to secure child protection through end-to-end encryption,” Patel warned that end-to-end encryption could starve the forces in the order of millions of reports of activities that could put children at risk.

5. How Samlesbury, Lancashire became the home of the National Cyber ​​Force

The battle to win the seat of the UK’s National Cyber ​​Force (NCF) has been quietly fought out of the public eye for the past 12 months.

Samlesbury, in Lancashire’s Ribble Valley, saw stiff competition from Manchester, home of the GCHQ North Office, to become the UK headquarters site for military operations in cyberspace against nation states , terrorists and criminals.

The arrival of the NCF brings a £ 5 billion investment in Lancashire’s economy, the largest ever in the region in 50 years.

In its wake is the promise of high-tech jobs in a region struggling with below-average wages and a shortage of highly skilled jobs.

6. A surveillance expert “unfairly” refused a post at the intelligence regulator after the intervention of MI5

One of the UK’s leading surveillance law experts was “unfairly” denied security clearance for senior intelligence overseeing post after MI5 voiced “serious reservations” about former associations with privacy groups.

Eric Kind, a guest lecturer at Queen Mary University, London, specializing in criminal justice and surveillance technologies, was to become the senior investigator within the oversight body, the Investigatory Powers Commissioner’s Office (ICPO) .

Kind has benefited from high-level support from the ICPO and current and former members of the police and intelligence services, including David Anderson, the former independent reviewer of anti-terrorism legislation, for this work.

But the Home Office overturned its decision to grant him a security clearance after MI5 raised concerns that his work with non-governmental organizations to reform surveillance meant he was “insufficiently respectful of the government. sanctity of confidentiality, ”it emerged today.

7. The government’s use of “general warrants” to authorize computer and telephone hacking is illegal

Security and intelligence services cannot use “blanket warrants” to indiscriminately hack large numbers of cellphones and computers in the UK, the judges ruled.

The High Court ruled on January 8 that it was illegal for GCHQ and MI5 to use warrants issued under section 5 of the Intelligence Services Act to interfere with electronic equipment and other goods.

The ruling means that targets for interference with the equipment – the government’s language for hacking – will need to be vetted by a secretary of state, rather than being left to the discretion of intelligence agencies. The warrants will only be lawful if they are sufficiently precise for the equipment concerned to be objectively verifiable.

8. CIA Seeks Revenge On Julian Assange For Leaked Hack Tools, Court Says

The CIA wanted revenge on WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange after WikiLeaks released documents on CIA surveillance tools, a court said.

Lawyers for Assange told court judges that the Vault 7 leak – which exposed the CIA’s hacking capabilities – had prompted a desire for blood and revenge on the part of the U.S. intelligence community.

They told the court that US agents discussed plans to forcibly remove Assange from the Ecuadorian embassy by kidnapping him and discussed the idea of ​​poisoning him.

The allegations were made on the second day of a US government appeal against a UK court decision not to extradite Assange to face indictment in the United States.

9. EU recognizes adequacy of UK data protection – but with a caveat

UK businesses will be able to continue exchanging data with Europe following a much-anticipated ruling that UK’s data protection regime is compatible with EU data protection rules.

After a year of talks between the UK and the European Union (EU), the European Commission (EC) has granted adequacy status to the General Data Protection Regulation and the Enforcement Directive. law.

The ruling comes with a four-year sunset clause and ‘strong guarantees’ that allow the EU to revoke the adequacy if UK data protection laws deviate significantly from those of the EU in the future.

Tory ministers and backbenchers have proposed easing the UK’s data protection regime as part of a move to cut red tape and strengthen the UK’s competitive position after Brexit.

“We are talking about a fundamental right of EU citizens which we have a duty to protect,” said Věra Jourová, Vice-President for Values ​​and Transparency at the EC. “This is why we have important guarantees, and if anything changes on the British side, we will intervene.

10. Pandora Papers: How Journalists Extracted Terabytes of Offshore Data to Expose the World’s Elites

The Pandora Papers have revealed how politicians, celebrities, royalty and fraudsters use offshore tax havens to hide assets, secretly buy property, launder money and avoid taxes.

More than 600 journalists in 117 countries have collaborated, using data tools to extract hidden links between offshore companies and wealthy elites who have used tax havens to hide their financial activities. Their investigation has embarrassed politicians, royalty, celebrities and oligarchs around the world.

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