The National Crime Agency (NCA) and police has carried out its biggest ever operation by infiltrating an encrypted phone network that was being used by hundreds of firearm traffickers and drug dealers to coordinate their criminal activities.
The NCA said that cracking of the encryption used by EncroChat's secured messaging tool enabled it to make almost 750 arrests across Britain. A large number of arrests were also made in other European countries, including France and the Netherlands.
More than two tonnes of drugs, dozens of weapons and £54m in cash were also seized from the criminals arrested in the UK.
The Europe-wide operation also involved Europol - the agency responsible for law enforcement cooperation in the EU.
EncroChat is a France-based provider of secure mobile phone messaging service. EncroChat sells its customised encrypted phones with a guarantee of anonymity. An estimated 60,000 people, with up to 10,000 in Britain, were using EncroChat's encrypted communication service before it was taken down by the police.
According to Europol, EncroChat's messaging tool was immensely popular among criminals as it enabled them to communicate freely with their peers without worrying about their chats being intercepted by police.
Criminals used the service to coordinate their activities, such as distribution of drugs and weapons, money laundering and plotting to kill members of rival groups.
EncroChat phones came with pre-loaded apps for messaging as well as the ability to make VOIP calls. They also contained a kill code to erase all messages remotely.
These phones cost around £1,500 for a six-month contract.
According to NCA, it created the technology to crack the EncroChat's encrypted data, which helped law enforcement agencies to gain direct access to criminals' communications, to intercept millions of messages, and to identify those criminals.
EncroChat sent a message to all its users on 13th June, warning them that their secured system had been breached and that the users should throw away their phones.
"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.
Andy Kraag, head of the Dutch national police's central investigation division commented: "Now, what seems to be possible only in thrillers and police series we've actually seen happen before our own eyes".
"We've actually been able to see what happens in real time with the criminals."
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