In July 2022, an 18 year-old teenager was arrested by Spanish authorities for making a credible bomb threat. This year, a judge acquitted the youth of the charges, but the question of how he was arrested is still up in the air.
Back in 2022, Aditya Verma made an ill-advised joke to his friends group on Snapchat before boarding a plane. “On my way to blow up the plane. I’m a member of the Taliban,” he told his friend over the private Snapchat group that was supposed to be encrypted communication.
Then he boarded the plane, not knowing the British authorities had seen that message and were preparing for a full-fledged intervention.
The UK authorities involved the Spanish authorities, as the teen was flying from London Gatwick to Menorca, and sent two F-18 fighter jets to flank the aircraft until it landed. Once it did, Verma was arrested and held by Spanish police for two days , before being released on bail.
Now, a judge in Madrid cleared him of all charges, saying that since no explosive was found, authorities had no reason to believe the Snapchat message was a real threat.
According to the BBC, “if he had been found guilty, the university student faced a fine of up to €22,500 (£19,300) and a further €95,000 in expenses to cover the cost of the jets being scrambled.”
The big question raised by this case: how did the UK authorities read the Snapchat message, when the app is encrypted?
According to the same BBC report, we are no closer to getting an answer than we were two years ago:
“One theory, raised in the trial, was that it could have been intercepted via Gatwick’s Wi-Fi network. But a spokesperson for the airport told BBC News that its network “does not have that capability”.
In the judge’s resolution, cited by the Europa Press news agency, it was said that the message, “for unknown reasons, was captured by the security mechanisms of England when the plane was flying over French airspace”.
The message was made “in a strictly private environment between the accused and his friends with whom he flew, through a private group to which only they have access, so the accused could not even remotely assume… that the joke he played on his friends could be intercepted or detected by the British services, nor by third parties other than his friends who received the message,” the judgment added.”
Snapchat did not comment on this case, though they do have a section on their website called “How We Work with Law Enforcement Authorities,” where they say they monitor messages for “imminent threats to life” and respond to authorities’ emergency disclosure requests within 30 minutes.
What you should learn from this story is clear: some jokes should not be made, as the consequences can be quite dramatic.