Criminals also use the encrypted messenger service Encrochat for their business. When it was cracked in 2020, prosecutors across Europe benefited from it. However, evaluating the data is difficult – and perhaps not even allowed.
According to their own statements, the Berlin public prosecutor’s office has so far filed charges in 40 cases around two years after the decryption of data from the Encrochat messenger service. More than 100 other investigations with at least one identified suspect were still ongoing, the authority said on request.
In another nine cases, the perpetrator still has to be determined. Because this was unsuccessful or the suspicion was not sufficient, the public prosecutor’s office has discontinued 37 investigations so far. The identification of suspects is difficult in view of rudimentary chat messages, “paired with jargon related to the environment,” as it was said.
The investigations and charges are based on data that was transmitted via so-called encrochat cell phones. The software provider of the same name promised spy-proof communication, which was also used by criminals to conduct illegal business. The service, which has since been discontinued, was considered unbreakable due to its complex encryption. However, in the spring of 2020, the police in the Netherlands and France managed to siphon off millions of secret Encrochat data. This led to numerous arrests throughout Europe, and German prosecutors have also received a lot of relevant material from their French colleagues.
According to the local public prosecutor’s office, there are around 1.6 million chat messages from almost 750 users in Berlin alone. At around 15 percent, a disproportionately large number of Encrochat users came from Berlin, it said. Since the beginning of the year, the authority has had a special department for these procedures in order to be able to cope with the flood of data.
It has not yet been finally clarified under criminal procedural law whether the data obtained from Encrochat can be used at all as evidence in German criminal proceedings or whether they are rather subject to a ban on the use of evidence. Although the Federal Court of Justice had confirmed that the Encrochat data could be used in German criminal proceedings, a decision by the Federal Constitutional Court is still pending following a corresponding constitutional complaint.