BLACK SEA PROSECUTORS NETWORK (BSPN) - The importance of wiretapping in drug trafficking investigations


On the 7 of April 2021, the Black Sea Prosecutors Network had an on-line meeting in the form of a webinar on the subject “The importance of wiretapping in drug trafficking investigations”.

EU-ACT promoted the development of the BLACK SEA PROSECUTORS NETWORK (BSPN). This is a network of prosecutors which contributes to build trust amongst these professionals at regional level through direct contact, facilitation of the information exchange and identification of best practices in the investigation and prosecution of drugs and its related offences, improving their skills. Members of this network are Armenia, Bulgaria, Georgia, Iran, Moldova, Romania, and Ukraine, and it is open for other countries of the Balkan Route.

During this session, a presentation on “technological measures for the investigation of organised crime” was delivered by Ignacio de Lucas, from the Spanish Antidrug Prosecutors Office in Madrid; and two documents from the European Court of Human Rights, a factsheet on personal data protection and a factsheet on mass surveillance, were shared with the participants to provide a basis for discussion.

Wiretapping is a crucial investigative technique, but nowadays the revolution in telecommunications with the massive use of digital communication through Internet-based platforms has introduced new challenges in the work of the law enforcement investigators. The above-mentioned presentation introduced a discussion about the question of how the new technologies can be used to obtain personal data and the legal restrictions to those technical possibilities.

Under the definition of technological investigation, the following measures were beheld: Interception of telephone and Internet communications; access to data held in automated files by service providers; capture and recording of voice communications using electronic devices; image capture in public places or spaces (a video was played showing concern about the face reconnaissance software); use of tracking and tracing devices or technologies; search of mass storage devices; and remote searches of IT equipment.

It was highlighted that the technological investigation is subject to rules aimed to guarantee the respect for human rights: The interception of telephone communications requires a court authorisation and the existence of at-first-sight’s evidence of a crime. It needs not just a judicial oversight, but also to keep the court informed on a continuous basis and a limit on this measure’s duration.

The differences on the interception of Internet communications (Internet telephony, based on voice over Internet protocol, instant messaging, based on Internet protocol networks, and e-mail) in comparison with telephone communication, based on regular phone lines, were also analysed, as well as their interception techniques. Another subject was also the access to data held in automated files by service providers.

On the chapter over the capture and recording of voice communication using electronic devices, the technical difficulties associated with the installation of the device were considered along with its legal requirements, as this mechanism is to be bounded by law and a court authorisation must be obtained.

Other forms of technological investigation tackled during the session were the image capture in public spaces, the use of tracking and tracing devices or technologies, the search of mass storage devices, and the remote search of equipment. As an example of technological investigation, a video on an operation to close the ‘Encrochat’ network for undetectable communication was showed.

The session went on with the participants sharing their own experience and questions in the field of the technological investigations. Seven prosecutors from Georgia, Ukraine, Moldova, and Romania attended this webinar.