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Cracking of encrypted phones in Europe leads to seizure of hundreds of tons of drugs

Investigations triggered by the cracking of encrypted phones three years ago have so far led to more than 6,500 arrests worldwide and the seizure of hundreds of tons of drugs, French, Dutch and European Union prosecutors said Tuesday.

The announcement underscored the staggering scale of criminality — mainly drugs and arms smuggling and money laundering — that was uncovered as a result of police and prosecutors effectively listening in to criminals using encrypted EncroChat phones.

“It helped to prevent violent attacks, attempted murders, corruption and large-scale drug transports, as well as obtain large-scale information on organised crime,” European Union police and judicial cooperation agencies Europol and Eurojust said in a statement.

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EncroChat sold phones for around $1,094 worldwide and offered subscriptions with global coverage for $1,641 per six months. The devices were marketed as offering complete anonymity and were said to be untraceable and easy to erase if a user was arrested.

French law enforcement authorities launched investigations into the company operating EncroChat in 2017. The probe led to a device being installed that was able to evade the phones’ encryption and gain access to users’ communications.

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In March 2021, Belgian police arrested dozens of people and seized more than 18.7 tons of cocaine after cracking another encrypted chat system, called Sky ECC.

The FBI and other law enforcement agencies went a step further and created an encrypted service — ANOM — that was marketed to criminals in a global sting that led to the arrest of more than 800 suspects and seizure of more than 35.2 tons of drugs, including cocaine, cannabis, amphetamines and methamphetamines.

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