U.K. police appear to have adopted an unorthodox method when it comes to getting around phone encryption — to access the data on a suspect’s iPhone, they decided to take matters into their own hands and, as the BBC reported, “legally ‘mug’ [him]” while it was unlocked.
According to a BBC report, Scotland Yard’s cybercrime team discovered that key evidence in a credit card fraud investigation was contained on suspect Gabriel Yew’s iPhone, but would be inaccessible so long as the device was locked. The officers capitalized on advantageous timing, grabbing the handset as the suspect was making a call. As the phone was already in use, it was unlocked, allowing the officials to access the necessary information.
The tactic was the idea of Operation Falcon detectives, who are responsible for investigating “major fraud and related crime organized online.”
While officials do not have the right to force a suspect to unlock his or her device, this type of “street robbery” may become more common as iPhones and similarly encrypted devices grow increasingly ubiquitous. “The challenges of pin code access and encryption on some phones make it harder to access evidence in a timely fashion than ever before,” said Detective Chief Inspector Andrew Gould, who served as the head of the operation. “Officers had to seize Yew’s phone from him in the street. This evidence was crucial to the prosecution.”
Ultimately, this operation proved successful, as the suspect in question pleaded guilty to fraud and weapons offenses earlier this week. As a result, he now faces five and a half years of prison time.