PGP encryption proves powerful

Tuesday, 10 June 2003, 3:54 PM EST

Italian police have seized at least two Psion personal digital assistants from members of the Red Brigades terrorist organization. But the major investigative breakthrough they were hoping for as a result of the information contained on the devices has failed to materialize--thwarted by encryption software used by the left-wing revolutionaries.

Failure to crack the code, despite the reported assistance of U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation computer experts, puts a spotlight on the controversy over the wide availability of powerful encryption tools.

The Psion devices were seized on March 2 after a shootout on a train traveling between Rome and Florence, Italian media and sources close to the investigation said. The devices, believed to number two or three, were seized from Nadia Desdemona Lioce and her Red Brigades comrade Mario Galesi, who was killed in the shootout. An Italian police officer was also killed. At least one of the devices contains information protected by encryption software and has been sent for analysis to the FBI facility in Quantico, Virginia, news reports and sources said.

The FBI declined to comment on ongoing investigations, and Italian authorities would not reveal details about the information or equipment seized during the shootout.

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