It is unnecessary to resort to international rogatory in order to tap BlackBerry mobile system chats nor is it necessary to use requisition measures.
This is what the Third Criminal Division of the Italian Supreme Court (ruling no. 50452/15) established with its appeal judgment issued in relation to the appeal on the part of certain defendants who had been placed under preventive detention by the Court of Rome due to their being implicated in drug trafficking.
The detention order was founded on various evidence, including chats on BlackBerry mobile systems, which related to importing a 10 kilo consignment of cocaine to Italy.
The defendants involved in this phone tapping brought the question before the Italian Supreme Court, claiming that the chats which had been tapped could not be considered as evidence, since they had taken place on BlackBerry’s mobile systems, which have their head office in Canada. Therefore, in their opinion, an international rogatory would have been required in order to legally acquire the content of the chats. Moreover, according to the defence, conversations in a chat context could not be considered as “phone conversations” as they are in fact a stream of computer data. On these grounds requisition measures regarding computer data (according to art. 254bis of the Italian Criminal Procedure Code) should have been carried out rather than a procedure of phone tapping.
In response to the first point, the Supreme Court asserted that it is a well-established principle that international phone calls routed to a specific Italian telephone “junction” should not be subject to international rogatory as all activity involving reception and recording takes place on Italian territory. This principle was also correctly applied by the Collegio di Cautela* in relation to the use of Blackberry chats. In this regard, the Supreme Court emphasized that computer interceptions had been correctly carried out on PIN codes, while the subsequent request to the Canadian company regarding ID data associated with the intercepted PIN codes had related to data that do not enjoy special protection.
Consequently, the Supreme Court considered it irrelevant that BlackBerry was Canadian, as the communications in question took place in Italy as a result of them transferred over an ICT platform located in Italy.
Conversely, the Court considered as unfounded the objection regarding the failure to implement requisition measures for the computer data. The judgment clarifies that, even if held by Internet service providers, requisitioning IT documents or IT devices excludes per se the concept of “communication”. Requisitioning will be specifically required when it is necessary to acquire documents for purposes of evidence, by means of inspections to be carried out on data contained in those documents. The Supreme Court asserted that “with regard to the use of chats on the BlackBerry system, it is correct to acquire contents by means of tapping according to art. 266bis c.p.p. and subsequent, as even if they are not simultaneous, online conversations constitute a flow of communication”.
Although the Court upheld the defendants’ appeal on the basis of considerations that go beyond the analysis of this post, the Court rejected the abovementioned specific technical objections, pointing out that: “even the most careful interpretation of the delicate relationship between the computer interception system and new technologies has observed that tapping BlackBerry chats takes place by using traditional systems, i.e. monitoring a phone’s PIN (or IMEI), which is uniquely associated with a nickname, underlining how tapping is managed at a technical level at the company’s Italian head office”.
The text of the Supreme Court judgment is available HERE.
*Second-instance Court empowered to hear appeals of decisions on preventive measures