Today’s report in the Guardian about the Metropolitan police’s mobile phone surveillance technology is a chilling reminder of the way the law follows, rather than leads technology use.
As I say in the piece, the technology could give police the ability to conduct “blanket and indiscriminate” monitoring. In particular, whether the use of a ‘spoof’ mobile phone network by the police counts as one act of surveillance, and therefore requires only one legal authorisation, or whether (as we would argue) there should be an authorisation for each individual phone intercepted - in the same way as other surveillance activity is regulated.
Critical questions of due process, legality and privacy are raised by this kind of technology and it is essential the police do not simply stonewall on the grounds of security.
Snooping on the personal communications of thousands of people in the hope of discovering one potential offender is a grossly disproportionate response and once again highlights how technology can become a lazy option for police officers.
The news follows a separate investigation by the Telegraph, who found the Met have spent millions on surveillance aircraft capable of similar interception and surveillance.
The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) makes clear in s 8(1) that:
(1)An interception warrant must name or describe either— (a)one person as the interception subject; or (b)a single set of premises as the premises in relation to which the interception to which the warrant relates is to take place.
It is therefore doubtful that such an investigation could be legally authorised under this legislation, as even a creative lawyer would struggle to argue a group of people in a 10km radius constitutes ‘one person’ or a ‘single set of premises’.
Big Brother Watch will continue to investigate where this technology has been deployed, and to campaign for proper judicial oversight of any use in future.