We need your support to continue! Become a member
The Bristol Cable

National report slams police ‘digital stop and search’ following Cable investigation

Following a Bristol Cable investigation in 2017, charity Privacy International have today published a new report on the technology UK police forces are secretly using to download all the content and data from people’s phones.

Bristol and Beyond

Privacy International seek urgent answers from Home Office on potentially unlawful action by police.

Illustration: Liane Aviram

Prompted by a Bristol Cable investigation in 2017, charity Privacy International have today published a new report into mass police surveillance of mobile phones.

The report, ‘Digital stop and search: how the UK police can secretly download everything from your mobile phone‘, details how phones belonging to suspected criminals, as well as people not convicted of any crime and even witnesses and victims, are subject to the invasive and poorly regulated technology.

Data can include photos, texts, calendar, internet browsing, emails and call logs – virtually everything on a mobile phone.

Police powers, the report states, have gone unchecked with no independent oversight to identify abuse and misuse of sensitive personal information.

Responding to these concerns, David Lammy, MP for Tottenham, said: “The lack of transparency around new policing tools such as mobile phone extraction is a serious cause for concern.”

“There are no records, no statistics, no safeguards, no oversight and no clear statement of the rights that citizens have if their mobile phone is confiscated and searched by the police,” he added.

“We entrust so much personal information to our phones that the police having the power to download every message and photo we have sent or received without any rights and protections is another worrying example of regulations not keeping up with advances in technology.”

According to a report produced by the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) for North Yorkshire Police, poor training and lack of proper oversight in using such technology had undermined prosecutions into serious crimes, including murder and sexual assault.

Beyond serious criminal cases, it was also found that this technology is being rapidly rolled out to investigate lower level crime.  A mobile phone search may be used to investigate assault, burglary and traffic offences.

Uncovered in Bristol and beyond

Procurement records obtained by the Cable showed that Avon and Somerset Police (ASP) had contracted with Cellebrite, an Israeli technology company that has become the go-to supplier for the FBI, surveillance agencies and at least 28 British police forces wanting to crack phones.

In 2017, ASP again contracted with Cellebrite. ASP bought the company’s UFED devices – a suitcase sized hacking tool which can be taken out on patrols – spending £56,000 on the product over the next three years.

Nationally, 26 out of 47 police forces admitted to using mobile phone extraction technology. Out of the remaining 21 police forces, eight have trialled or intend to trial this technology, and 13 either failed to respond or stated they hold no information on the use of this technology.

Millie Graham Wood, solicitor at Privacy International, said: “You could search a person, and their entire home, and never find anywhere near as much information as you could from searching their phone.

“Yet the police can take data from your phone without your consent, without your knowledge and without a warrant,” she added.

“Given the serious problems we still face in the UK with discriminatory policing, we need to urgently address how this new frontier of policing might be disproportionately and unfairly impacting on minority ethnic groups, political demonstrators, environmental activists and many other groups that can find themselves in the crosshairs of the police.”

More original reporting on police surveillance by the Cable. 

Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Related content

Man charged with riot and arson says police escalated protest into violence

He is accused of trying to set police vehicles on fire during the Kill the Bill demo on 21 March, but blamed police for turning the protest violent.

Man denies setting fire to police vehicles in first Kill the Bill trial

25-year-old Ryan Roberts is charged with riot, attempted arson and arson in connection with the Bristol protest on 21 March that escalated into violence.

Exclusive: No child cruelty charges after two-year police investigation into special school St Christopher's

Two years after the school for vulnerable children closed, the valuable site has been sold and now local residents are raising concerns about plans to redevelop it into a care community for older people.

Does this Bristol pilot project suggest the UK is moving towards less draconian drug laws?

The £5 million pilot project came to Bristol earlier this year to help get more people into treatment and prevent reoffending.

Police denied woman with autism access to appropriate adult after suicide attempt

A second complaint has been upheld against Avon and Somerset Police over their treatment of a woman who says she has suffered years of hate crime.

Exclusive: the witness who police didn’t interview after friend’s unsolved disappearance speaks for first time

Jo Hook had dinner with her friend Linda Millard the night before she vanished but was never interviewed by police as a witness. Linda’s disappearance is one of Avon and Somerset Constabulary’s longest running missing person cases, with a possible organised crime connection.

Join our newsletter

Get the essential stories you won’t find anywhere else

Subscribe to the Cable newsletter to get our weekly round-up direct to your inbox every Saturday

Join our newsletter

Get the essential stories you won’t find anywhere else

Subscribe to the Cable newsletter to get our weekly round-up direct to your inbox every Saturday