Latest New EU ruling puts Encrochat gangland cases in jeopardy
CRIMINAL cases against a number of alleged Irish gangsters have been thrown into jeopardy after a new EU privacy ruling into the hacking of an encrypted phone network.
In June, a group of suspected criminals across Europe – including Irish nationals - were arrested after EU police forces, led by French and Dutch cops, hacked into Encrochat – an encrypted phone service.
The arrested men included Michael O'Loughlin, originally from Galway but with an address on the Upper Dromore Road in Warrenpoint, who was brought before Newry Magistrates Court in June.
Michael O'Loughlin faces two counts of conspiring with other people to commit murder, conspiring to possess firearms under suspicious circumstances and a total of 11 drug offences.
The Galway native previously made headlines when he was jailed for nine years for membership of a criminal organisation in 2012 - the first such sentence in the State under then-new anti-gang legislation.
However, a new ruling by the EU’s highest court has now potentially thrown these cases into jeopardy.
The judgment found that UK, French and Belgian mass surveillance regimes may not respect privacy, opening the floodgates to sentence appeals on hundreds of Eurochat cases.
Last week, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) issued a “preliminary ruling” stating that the UK, French and Belgian bulk data collection or retention regimes must be brought within EU law.
The CJEU has ruled that EU member states need to comply with general principles of EU law such as proportionality, privacy, data protection and freedom of expression.
It stated that these principles cannot be ignored for national security reasons, although certain exceptions may be allowed.
The court referred to a pressing national security threat being able to justify limited and temporary bulk data collection and retention, but only “what is strictly necessary”.
The cases will now return to each individual country’s courts for implementation of the judgment.
Caroline Wilson Palow, Legal Director of Privacy International, said: “Today’s judgment reinforces the rule of law in the EU.
“Democratic societies must place limits and controls on the surveillance powers of our police and intelligence agencies.”
In June, international crime gangs were left stunned after more than 800 people were arrested after messages on EncroChat were intercepted and decoded
Authorities managed to access Encrochat, an encrypted platform used by 60,000 people worldwide, a top-secret communications system favoured by criminals to trade drugs and guns.
In a press conference in June from the Eurojust facility in Amsterdam, senior officers from Holland and France described how they came together after cracking the encrypted network.
Over a two month period they were able to watch live chats between major criminals all over Europe on the secure network which was hacked at some time in April.