Encrypted Services Aid Spanish Police in Identifying Catalan Activist

Encrypted Services Apple, Proton, and Wire Aid Spanish Police in Activist Identification

The encrypted services of tech giants Apple, Proton, and Wire have played a crucial role in aiding Spanish police efforts to identify a pseudonymous activist, according to court documents obtained by TechCrunch. The investigation revolved around individuals involved in the pro-independence movement in Catalonia.

Legal Requests to Swiss-Based Services

Earlier this year, the Spanish police Guardia Civil sent legal requests via Swiss police to Wire and Proton, both of which are based in Switzerland. The authorities sought any identifying information related to accounts on the two firms’ respective platforms. Wire responded by providing the email address used to register the Wire account, a Protonmail address. In turn, Proton provided the recovery email for that Protonmail account, which was linked to an iCloud email address, the documents revealed.

Apple’s Role in the Investigation

Upon obtaining the iCloud email address, the Guardia Civil requested further information from Apple. Apple provided a full name, two home addresses, and a linked Gmail account. However, TechCrunch has chosen not to disclose the full name of the alleged activist due to uncertainty surrounding their involvement in these activities and whether they have committed any crimes.

Encrypted Services and User Data

Typically, encrypted online services aim to minimize the amount of user data they can access by encrypting it with keys that only the user possesses. This effectively prevents companies from surrendering user data in response to a court order. Therefore, police often tap companies for their metadata, including identifiable information about the user, such as email addresses.

Wire and Proton Respond to Legal Requests

Wire and Proton confirmed to TechCrunch that they complied with the legal requests received from Swiss police. Wire spokesperson Hauke Gierow stated that Wire is unable to see or disclose the content of any data transmitted over its service. Proton spokesperson Edward Shone mentioned that Proton provides privacy by default, not anonymity, as anonymity requires certain user actions to ensure proper operational security.

Spanish Authorities and Catalan Independence Movement

The legal requests sent to Wire, Proton, and Apple are related to a case wherein Spanish authorities believe a pseudonymous member of the Catalan pro-independence movement, Tsunami Democratic, was planning actions or demonstrations during King Felipe VI’s planned visit to the region in 2020.

This case underscores the role of encrypted services in aiding law enforcement, despite their commitment to user privacy. It also raises questions about the balance between privacy and security in the digital age. As encrypted services continue to evolve, their role in such investigations will likely remain a hot topic.