If the FBI needs help cracking a BlackBerry handset, they should call the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The country's federal police agency has reportedly been sitting on a global BlackBerry encryption key for six years.
According to a joint investigation by Motherboard and Vice News, the cipher was initially used to collect and analyze "over one million" messages during an RCMP investigation into a mafia slaying. The "Project Clemenza" case, which helped to dismantle two major Italian-based organized crime cells, ran from 2010 to 2012, at which time private texts were decrypted using a PIN-to-PIN interception technique.
That, according to the Mounties, marked the first time the method was used on such a large scale during a major North American investigation. New reports, however, suggest that the RCMP may still have the ability to read encrypted BlackBerry messages. As Motherboard notes, it's not clear how the RCMP got the key as documents in the case are heavily redacted.
The key—a bit of code that can unlock the encryption on virtually any BlackBerry text sent from one device to another—does not work on the company's Enterprise Service devices. It does, however, provide easy (and undetected) access to consumers' phones.
"As Canada's national police force, the RCMP uses various technical investigative methods to lawfully obtain evidence in order to safeguard Canadians and conduct priority criminal investigations. The use of any investigative tools by the RCMP is governed by the Charter and subject to appropriate judicial processes. We generally do not comment on specific investigative methods, tools and techniques outside of court," the RCMP said in a statement.
BlackBerry declined to comment on the report.
In a January blog post, BlackBerry CEO John Chen wrote that "There are no backdoors in any BlackBerry devices, and BlackBerry does not store and therefore cannot share BlackBerry device passwords with law enforcement or anyone else."
At CES, though, COO Marty Beard declined to say whether BlackBerry would decrypt a fully encrypted Priv phone for the FBI, or even whether that was technically possible.
Editor's Note: This story was updated at 4:50 p.m. ET with comment from the RCMP.