Drug Cartels Were Helped By Modified Blackberry Phones

An indictment has been ordered against the chief executive of a company that manufactured some of the highly-secure smartphones which were allegedly made use of in crimes by some of the most noted criminals of the world.

Investigators said that criminal organizations such as the Sinaloa Cartel used the modified Blackberry smartphones that were sold by Canadian-based Phantom Secure for which the company had made “tens of millions of dollars”.

This is the first time that U.S. authorities have charged a company intentionally making cell phones that make use of encrypted technology that can be used for crime and by criminals.

Vincent Ramos was arrested in Seattle last week by the Department of Justice. He and his four others associated were later indicted.

The charges brought against them pertained to racketeering and conspiracy and to help in drugs distribution. A maximum penalty of life imprisonment is applicable to both offences.  O=the only person in custody among the four indicted is Mr Ramos.

“This organisation Phantom Secure was designed to facilitate international drug trafficking all throughout the entire world,” US attorney Adam Braverman told the media.

“These traffickers, including members of the Sinaloa Cartel, would use these fully-encrypted devices to facilitate their drug trafficking activities in order to avoid law enforcement scrutiny.”

There were no comments from Blackberry. There was also no confirmation about Blackberry cooperating in the investigations. It was not only the blackberry smartphones that had been changed to suit illegal purposes, Mr Braverman said.

“Our understanding is there are a handful of other organisations that exist like this. The FBI, and our office, will continue investigating not only Phantom Secure but any other company that provides this kind of communication device to criminal organisations.”

In addition to most of the available smartphones now have high end encryption, there are also platforms and apps like Facebook, Google and Apple which also have similar levels of encryption, he added. He said that culpability was mandated for Phantom Secure with regards to how its end users were making use of the services.

“The difference is this company was specifically-designed to aid international drug trafficking organisations,” he said.

“The only way that you’re able to actually utilize one of these devices and obtain one of these devices is if somebody else vouched for you.”

For a cost of $2,000-$3,000 for around six months of use, a subscription format was used for selling its devices by Phantom Secure.

A new person has to be introduced by an existing customer for the new person to become a customer of the services. In this manner, the company had planned to prevent the law enforcement agencies from getting hands on the devices.

All across the world, about 20,000 Phantom Secure-modified handsets are now in use according to estimates by agents.

According to court documents, it was very difficult to trace the data used over the devices because of a system of automatic routing of the data to servers in Panama and Hong Kong while communicating over the phones.

(Adapted from BBC.com)


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