Who’s listening to your calls? Met’s blanket surveillance system will track thousands of innocent civilians’ mobilesby THEUNHIVEDMIND, theunhivedmind.com
October 31st 2011
Law-abiding citizens could be under surveillance via their mobile phones as Met police introduce a new phone-tracking technology, it was revealed today.
Police can now shut off phones remotely, listen in on conversations and gather data about users in a targeted area – even innocent members of the public.
The Met would not confirm whether the system has yet been used in public disorder situations, such as the London riots or protests at St Paul’s and Parliament Square.
The Met bought the system from Datong plc in Leeds, which serves the US Secret Service, the Ministry of Defence and regimes in the Middle East, according to a report in The Guardian.
The news has provoked alarm among lawyers and privacy groups that innocent people could become unwitting targets.
Nick Pickles, director of privacy and civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch, warned the technology could give police the ability to conduct ‘blanket and 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,’ he told The Guardian.
‘Such invasive surveillance must be tightly regulated, authorised at the highest level and only used in the most serious of investigations.
‘It should be absolutely clear that only data directly relating to targets of investigations is monitored or stored.’
A transceiver around the size of a suitcase can apparently be placed in a vehicle or another static location and operated remotely by officers.
The technology, which sounds like it could feature in a high-tech thriller, can force hundreds of phones per minute to release their identity codes, allowing police to track people’s movements.
In 2009, the Government refused Datong an export licence to ship technology worth £0.8m to an unnamed Asia Pacific country, because the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said it could be used to commit human rights abuses.
Counter-terrorism units will reportedly be able to trick phones into using a false network and then cut off any that are intended to trigger an explosive.
But experts said it raised many questions about privacy and data protection.
Datong’s website says its products are designed to provide law enforcement, military, security agencies and special forces with the means to ‘gather early intelligence in order to identify and anticipate threat and illegal activity before it can be deployed’.
The Met police paid £143,455 to Datong for ‘ICT hardware’ in 2008-09, according to documents seen by The Guardian.
Datong also entered into contracts worth more than £500,000 with the Ministry of Defence in 2009, the documents showed.
In February 2011 it was paid £8,373 by Hertfordshire Constabulary, according to a transaction report released under freedom of information.
Between 2004 and 2009 Datong won more than £1.03m in contracts with US government agencies, including the Secret Service, Special Operations Command and the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
In February 2010 the company won a £750,000 order to supply tracking and location technology to the US defence sector.
Latest figures produced released by the Government show there were 1,682 interception warrants approved by the home secretary in 2010.
Public authorities can request other communications data – such as the date, time and location a phone call was made – without the authority of the home secretary.
In 2010, 552,550 such requests were made, averaging around 1,500 per day.
Datong refused to comment on its involvement.
A spokesman for the Metropolitan police service said: ‘The MPS may employ surveillance technology as part of our continuing efforts to ensure the safety of Londoners and detect criminality. It can be a vital and highly effective investigative tool.
‘Although we do not discuss specific technology or tactics, we can re-assure those who live and work in London that any activity we undertake is in compliance with legislation and codes of practice.’
A spokesman for the Home Office said covert surveillance was under ‘constant review’ by chief surveillance commissioner Sir Christopher Rose who monitors the conduct of authorities and ensures they are complying with the appropriate legislation.
He added: ‘Law enforcement agencies are required to act in accordance with the law and with the appropriate levels of authorisation for their activity.’
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