Gang in Mexico Offers ‘Drug Menu’ Via Encrypted WhatsApp

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A drug gang in Mexico City is providing menus of its products and making deals via WhatsApp, in a case that shows how dealers exploit encrypted technology to reach customers while skirting authorities.

The messaging service WhatsApp provides sellers with a much easier way to reach customers than would otherwise be possible through a cell phone service.

One well-known Mexico City drug gang, Unión de Tepito, even provided its WhatsApp clients with a “drug menu,” El Universal reported, with prices and emojis representing its products. About 10 drugs were listed, including cocaine of varying quality and price, ecstasy (by the pill or gram), methamphetamine, and crack cocaine, among others.

SEE ALSO: Mexico News and Profile

In the past, customers looking to buy drugs had to venture into dangerous and crime ridden neighborhoods within the city. Microtrafficking groups also sell near soccer fields, bars, clubs and tourist districts. In 2017, security officials said there were some 20,000 “narcotienditas,” or drug trafficking points, throughout the capital.

InSight Crime Analysis

The use of WhatsApp and other encrypted messaging services by drug gangs has taken off recently in Latin America.

In Brazil, authorities busted a ring that sold synthetic drugs such as ecstasy through a group chat of some 200 people. In Colombia, a drug trafficking network used the messaging service to reach high school and college students. And screenshots of drug menus in a WhatsApp chat were published by a twitter user in Argentina.

SEE ALSO: Colombia News and Profile

While WhatsApp has become one of the most popular methods for drug dealers to connect with clients, Facebook and applications such as Kik, Wickr, Signal and Discord are also used.

The ease of reaching and interacting customers through such applications partly explains their increasing use in drug sales.

Another benefit is the end-to-end encryption offered by some of these services, providing dealers and customers a sense of security that they are not being surveilled by authorities.

That’s not always the case, though.

For example, in the United States, judges have demanded that Whatsapp install a technology that enables calls and messages to be tracked in drug investigations, Forbes reported. These intercepts don’t provide authorities with message content, but they do scoop up unencrypted metadata information, such as the date, time and duration of communications.

Governments have also examined legislation that requires the decryption of communications for police and intelligence agencies. Just last year, Australia passed a bill that forces technology firms decode messages believed to be linked to terrorism or organized crime, Bloomberg reported.

In Latin America, no such workarounds exist, but authorities have found another way to take down microtrafficking groups using the messaging services: simply infiltrate the chats. Such sleuthing was responsible for the busts in both Colombia and Brazil.

Communication advances have long transformed the drug trade. Whatsapp is just the latest example.

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