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Users of an encrypted app in the United States had their messages protected from a global police sting that brought down hundreds of alleged Australian criminals, a US court document reveals.

Operation Ironside — known internationally as Trojan Horse — used encrypted messaging service AN0M to lure criminals into revealing their secrets to police in a three-year global collaboration between the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

The app was used by organised crime gangs around the world to plan executions, mass drug importations and money laundering.

In Australia 251 alleged offenders were charged after raids across the country seized $45 million in assets and cash and almost 4 tonnes of drugs.

A document filed in the US District Court showed the FBI — with help from Australia and an unnamed third country — was spying on millions of messages in over 90 countries as part of the operation.

a man being arrested by police
The AFP made more than 500 arrests but US privacy laws stopped the same from happening there.(

Supplied: AFP

)

However, FBI agents were not allowed to download or read any messages sent from AN0M accounts in the United States because of privacy laws.

President of the NSW Council of Civil Liberties Pauline Wright said the US had “pretty strict protections around human rights and privacy” which Australia did not have.

“It illustrates that Australia is an outlier in terms of protections for human rights and civil liberties,” she said.

The unsealed court document is an FBI agent’s affidavit supporting an application for a warrant to access a US Gmail account and gives more details about the arrangements between the FBI and the AFP.

a woman with long hair smiling
NSW Council of Civil Liberties Pauline Wright says Australia is an outlier when it comes to protections for human rights and privacy.(

Supplied

)

It said from October 2018, the AFP obtained a court order to legally monitor the AN0M devices of individuals in Australia “or with a clear nexus to Australia”.

It notes while Australia’s judicial order “did not allow for the sharing of the content with foreign partners” the AFP “shared generally” with the FBI the nature of the conversations occurring over AN0M.

Ms Wright said if data were being shared with a foreign power “we would have real concerns about that”.

“It’s good that we’re able to disrupt organised crime but in doing so what we are really concerned about is that innocent parties’ data could be obtained, stored and used in ways that they would never have foreseen.”

The AFP declined to provide any information about the warrants used during the investigation and whether they allowed Australia to share data with the US.

A spokesman for the Australian Lawyers Alliance, Greg Barns SC, said it would be up to the courts to decide whether information obtained from AN0M devices was admissible.

“It is always important that if you are going to have what are extremely intrusive processes, investigation techniques being used, that in fact, it is the courts that have an oversight both at the warrant stage but also when it comes to judging whether or not the evidence has been lawfully obtained,” he said.

FBI recruited an informant

The US court document showed that by the middle of 2019, the FBI decided it needed greater reach.

It struck an agreement with an unnamed third country to install a server to download communications from AN0M devices around the world which would then be copied and sent to the FBI.

Ms Wright said it was “unlikely” that country was part of a liberal democracy.

“All liberal democracies apart from Australia have protections in place that would probably prevent that from occurring,” she said.

By the end of 2019, this third country was sending data to the FBI every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, according to the court document.

“This data comprises the encrypted messages of all the users of AN0MS with a few exceptions,” the document reads.

Those exceptions included approximately 15 AN0M users in the United States. 

The affidavit noted that if any other AN0M handsets “landed in the US” the AFP agreed to monitor them “for any threats to life”.

The court documents also give a very different account to that provided by the AFP of how the AN0M app came about.

According to the AFP, the app had been worked on by “platform developers” before law enforcement agencies became involved.

FBI Legal Attaché US Embassy Anthony Russo
Legal Attache at the FBI, Anthony Russo joined Prime Minister Scott Morrison in speaking about the success of Operation Ironside.(

AAP: Dean Lewins

)

“The developers did not know who the users of the devices were or that law enforcement agencies were involved in the management of that platform,” the AFP said in a statement released last week.

But the court document reveals the developer was actually an informant who had been recruited by the FBI and was knowingly working with its agents.

It reveals the developer was an informant who had been recruited by the FBI.

The informant, who’d previously served six years in jail for importing drugs, had already been working on AN0M for some time. 

He offered the AN0M device to the FBI in return for a reduced sentence on charges he was facing. 

fbi logo on the floor
Court papers show the FBI paid an informer US$120,000 for his services to develop the AN0M app.(

Supplied: FBI

)

The document reveals the FBI paid him US$120,000 for his services plus almost US$60,000 for living and travel expenses.

The AFP is now supporting a new bill before parliament that would give law enforcement agencies greater access to online personal data. 

The NSW Council for Civil Liberties said Operation Ironside demonstrated police already had “sweeping powers” under existing legislation.   

“The fact that this operation has been able to gather all of this information means that we do have very broad effective powers already in place and there’s certainly no need for more,” Ms Wright said.

source : news.google.com

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