UK coppers have decided it is not worth the effort of trying to break the encryption on a suspect’s mobile phone. Instead they are just stealing the phone before the suspect can stick their security up.
Scotland Yard’s cybercrime unit smashed a fake credit card fraud racket recently but appeared to use some unorthodox methods to do it.
Inspector Knacker of the Yard realised crucial evidence in the investigation was concealed on a suspect’s iPhone – but it would be unobtainable if the device was locked. So they waited for him to be on a call and then seized the phone in the street. This beat all the security settings.
Gabriel Yew had been under investigation for the suspected manufacture of fake cards that gangs were using across Europe to buy luxury goods. Detectives suspected that he was using an iPhone exclusively to communicate to other members of the network but knew if they arrested him, he could refuse to unlock it and they would never see incriminating evidence.
It was all because they knew they could not legally force a suspect’s finger or thumb on to the device’s fingerprint reader to unlock it.
However, for some reason UK law did allow them to stage their own lawful “street robbery” – using a similar snatch technique to a thief – and in June a team set out to do precisely that.
Undercover surveillance officers trailed Yew and waited for him to unlock his phone to make a call – thereby disabling the encryption.
One officer then rushed in to seize the phone from Yew’s hand – just as would happen in a criminal mugging. As his colleagues restrained the suspect, the officer continually “swiped” through the phone’s screens to prevent it from locking before they had downloaded its data.
Det Ch Insp Andrew Gould who led the operation said the evidence was crucial to the prosecution.
The phone revealed shed-loads of data on Yew’s business practices. He had orders for fake cards and there was evidence linking him to four men who were subsequently convicted and a further 100 potential suspects.
Yew pleaded guilty to fraud and weapons offences and at a sentencing hearing this week at Blackfriars Crown Court was jailed for five and a half years.