UK's Metropolitan Police to extract suspects' mobile data on a wider basis

A- A A+

Recent news that the Metropolitan Police has put in place a system to extract mobile phone data from suspects held in custody has sent alarm bells ringing in certain quarters.
Privacy International expressed concern over the Metropolitan Police’s use of the Radio Tactics ACESO mobile phone data extraction system. “We are looking at a possible breach of human rights law,” spokeswoman Emma Draper told the BBC.

The Register notes the Radio Tactics device is basically a Windows 7 PC with forensics software installed, and a touch interface complete with step-by-step instructions on where to plug in each cable into the mobile device. The move to a standardized system for the Metropolitan Police is anticipated to save time and resources, The Register noting: “Different police forces use different companies, but it’s an expensive and time-consuming process and as the number of smartphones increases, the police would like to be able to get at more data more easily and in less time.”

It will be interesting to see how the terminals are used once they have been rolled out, and whether the planned training for police officers using the technology will prove sufficient to ensure that those whose mobile phones are subject to forensic examination are duly accorded the protections afforded under the existing legislation. The UK’s Human Rights Act Article 8, for example, assures individuals are guaranteed the right to privacy surrounding their communications except where a public authority, such as the police, believes it necessary to interfere with that right “in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others”.

A further concern is whether long term storage of the data retrieved from these devices remains secure.

Privacy International is warning that the technology, while currently limited to terminals in police stations, may eventually be used on the street:
“Examining suspects’ mobile phones after they are arrested is one thing, but if this technology was to be taken out onto the streets and used in stop-and-searches, that would be a significant and disturbing expansion of police powers,” said privacy International spokeswoman Emma Draper.

Categories: Ethics, Privacy