UNODC Iraq National Workshop – Foreign Terrorist Fighters 

The Foreign Terrorist Fighters Workshop for Iraq brought experts from around the world to present on the collection of intelligence and evidence. A major challenge discussed was the use of end-to-end encryption.

Following the appalling terrorist attacks in Westminster, Manchester and London Bridge the use of encrypted devices and messaging apps by terrorists has again been highlighted.

Terrorist and criminal organizations will always take advantage of methods that prevent law enforcement officers knowing their plans. As a prosecutor my case would always be strengthened if I could use incriminating communications proving a criminal enterprise.

Evidence of the content of encrypted communications can be obtained from a seized and unlocked device. Increasingly, with the use of pinlocked devices, this method is less successful. Although, there are other ways of securing evidence from encrypted apps and devices – either through cloud backups or metadata.

Knowing where someone sent a message from, who to and when, is significant evidence held by Communication Service Providers (CSPs) – often located in overseas servers requiring use of Mutual Legal Assistance (MLA).

My intervention at the Iraq National Workshop shared knowledge from the online Guide to securing CSP evidence from the U.S. and sharing lessons learned from my experience as a Liaison Magistrate.

The MLA process can be grindingly slow. With the use of encryption, the demands on MLA will inevitably grow. The need to reduce delays is an important area that governments, working with the CSPs, need to reform through speedier procedures, more resources and better education. This reform includes moving away from paper requests and diplomatic pouches to direct and electronic transmission for all States – ironically using encryption to ensure secure!

Equally, criminal justice partners around the world need to be informed about procedures already available to secure CSP data, without the need to wait for the execution of an MLA request. Each CSP has their own system and interpretation of domestic law to determine what they provide voluntarily and how. The CSPs could collaborate to harmonise these processes, so legal officials from requesting states consistently know the scope of what they can obtain and how for terrorism investigations

Terrorists seek to destroy our freedoms through violence and must be brought to justice applying the rule of law. Prosecutors and law enforcement officers need the tools to secure the intelligence and evidence that will deliver this justice – this Workshop, enhancing the knowledge of Iraqi officials, is part of this process.

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