Police have had a win in a legal case over a high-tech, international sting.

South Australia's Court of Appeal has ruled that millions of messages sent and received via the encrypted AN0M application were lawfully obtained. 

ThE ruling represents a major legal milestone for Operation Ironside cases across the country. 

Three justices of SA’s Court of Appeal have handed down their decision for a test case involving two accused individuals. 

“The court has determined that the use of the AN0M application platform did not involve interception,” said Justice Mark Livesey, President of the Court of Appeal. 

“The challenges to the validity of the authorisations referred to as 'major control operations' have not been made out and that otherwise the challenges have been rejected.”

The AN0M app was at the centre of a three-year global collaboration between the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). 

This operation used the encrypted messaging service to lure alleged criminals into revealing their secrets to police. 

The AFP led the operation, examining approximately 19 million messages received through AN0M.

Police deliberately distributed the encrypted messaging app to alleged criminals in 2018. It is alleged that black-market phones with the so-called Trojan horse app were circulated within the criminal underworld under the belief they were secure from police surveillance. 

When the AN0M app was disabled on June 7, 2021, authorities worldwide arrested hundreds of alleged users. 

In Australia alone, more than 250 individuals have been charged in connection with the operation. Charges range from conspiracies to murder, significant drug trafficking, and money laundering offences to other violent crimes. 

Multiple criminal trials in South Australia had been delayed pending the Court of Appeal decision. 

Supreme Court Justice Adam Kimber, who ruled in a test case that the AFP had not illegally intercepted the messages, referred questions of law to the Court of Appeal for confirmation.

The decision is now expected to proceed to the High Court in Canberra, potentially setting a precedent for similar cases nationwide.

Operation Ironside, also known as Operation Trojan Shield, was a collaboration by law enforcement agencies from multiple countries running between 2018 and 2021. 

The operation intercepted millions of messages sent through the supposedly secure ANOM messaging app. 

The app, widely used by criminals, was actually a covert tool distributed by the FBI and the AFP, allowing them to monitor all communications. 

The operation resulted in the arrest of over 800 suspects allegedly involved in criminal activities across 16 countries. 

Among those arrested were alleged members of Australian-based Italian mafia, Albanian organised crime, outlaw motorcycle clubs, drug syndicates, and other organised crime groups. 

The operation seized almost 40 tons of drugs, 250 guns, 55 luxury cars, and more than $48 million in various currencies and cryptocurrencies.

The AN0M devices featured a messaging app running on Android smartphones with a custom ROM called ArcaneOS. Normal functions such as voice telephony, email, and location services were disabled. 

The devices included features such as PIN entry screen scrambling and automatic deletion of all information if a specific PIN was entered or if the device was unused for a specific period. 

The app was opened via a calculation within the calculator app, with messages copied to servers controlled by the FBI, allowing them to decrypt and monitor communications.

As of June 2024, 63 offenders have been sentenced to a combined 307 years' imprisonment in Australia as a result of Operation Ironside. The AFP, assisted by state and territory law enforcement agencies, has executed hundreds of search warrants across the country. 

The operation has continued to disrupt organised crime, with the AFP saying it has seized more than 6.6 tonnes of illicit drugs, $55.6 million in illicit cash, and 149 weapons and firearms.