Britain's Metropolitan Police Tracking Mobile Phones with New Surveillance System
October 31, 2011 10:04 AM
Critics say the new system is not proportionate under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA)
The UK has committed some Big Brother-like acts in the recent past, such as
collecting citizens' email
, phone and Web history. The Metropolitan police are now continuing such acts by launching a new technology that tracks all mobile handsets in a set area.
This surveillance system is referred to as "Listed X" under government protocol, and was made by Leeds-based compant Datong plc, which specializes in surveillance technology for law enforcement, military, special forces and security agencies.
The system has the ability to emit a signal over an area of up to 10 sq km. This signal returns the IMSI and IMEI identity codes of all mobile handsets in that area by acting like a mobile phone network, and the recipient of these codes is able
to track the devices
. Those with these uniqie codes can also intercept SMS messages and phone calls, collect information about the user and even turn phones off remotely.
The Metropolitan police, Britain's largest police force, is reportedly using this technology in order to be able to cut off a phone that is used as a trigger for a potential explosive device.
The new system has raised a lot of questions concerning citizen's privacy. According to Big Brother Watch, a privacy and civil liberties group, the Met police could use the technology for indiscriminate monitoring.
"It raises a number of serious civil liberties concerns and clarification is urgently needed on when and where this technology has been deployed, and what data has been gathered," said Nick Pickles, director of Big Brother Watch.
Currently, all covert surveillance is regulated under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), which says that intercepting communications is acceptable if a warrant is authorized by the home secretary and the action is necessary/proportionate. In 2010, 1,682 interception warrants were approved by the home secretary. About 552,550 requests were made that year.
"How can a device which invades any number of people's privacy be proportionate?" said Barrister Jonathan Lennon, specialist in cases involving covert intelligence and RIPA. "There needs to be clarification on whether interception of multiple people's communications -- when you can't even necessarily identify who the people are -- is compliant with the act. It may be another case of the technology racing ahead of the legislation. Because if this technology now allows
and intercept to take place at the same time, I would have thought that was not what parliament had in mind when it drafted RIPA."
Datong currently sells its products to about 40 countries around the globe, including South America, Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Asia Pacific. The Met police paid £143,455 to Datong in 2008/2009 for ICT hardware, and in 2010, Datong announced its pro forma revenue in the UK was £3.9 million.
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