Metropolitan Police uses secret surveillance technology to follow suspects and gather data from their mobile phones, The Times reports. The gathering is done to all active mobiles within a certain range — including those belonging to innocent people.
The technology, called an IMSI catcher, also allows for phone calls to be intercepted and listened to. Text messages and emails can also be collected and read. Additionally, it can block phone signals in a specific area.
But it’s not just the suspect’s phone which is taken under control by the technology; all active mobile phones in the area are. Sources in the Metropolitan Police told The Times that the data of innocent people may also be stored in archives.
“We only used them when we had no idea who our target was in contact with. We’d sit outside and pick up everything. To be honest, I was always uncomfortable about them because you are looking at everyone’s information,” the source said.
The Metropolitan Police are not the only organization which uses the technology. The Times reports that the National Crime Agency (NCA) and other larger police forces also do so. These units do not need judicial or governmental permission, as an officer of high rank can authorize it for preventing or detecting serious crime.
Journalists and several organizations have already expressed their concern.
“You cannot maintain this level of secrecy and claim that we have policing by consent,” Privacy International advocacy officer Matthew Rice said. “This technology is not capable of targeting an individual. It is astonishing to see a continued reluctance by the police to discuss its use. The latest IMSI Catchers can unmask entire groups involved in protests, intercept all their messages and block all their calls.”
Neither Scotland Yard nor NCA confirmed nor denied the use of the technology, the report says.
The IMSI (International Mobile Subscriber Identity) catcher is a fake mobile tower which acts between the target mobile phone and the service provider’s real towers. The IMSI catcher logs the IMSI numbers of all the mobile stations in the area, as they attempt to attach to the IMSI catcher. After that, the operator can get all necessary data.
Earlier this year, it was revealed that British secret services have been illegally intercepting millions of communications.