Police entering 'new frontier for indiscriminate surveillance' which could have listened to YOUR phone calls
PUBLISHED: 08:41 26 October 2016
Texts and phone calls made by you, your children and families may have been swept up by Avon and Somerset Constabulary's 'spy gear' surveillance equipment - but the force will not answer questions about its use.
The constabulary has spent £170,000 on a controversial device which can eavesdrop on private conversations and find out intimate information about you, even if you have not committed a crime.
The force has been described as entering ‘a new frontier for indiscriminate surveillance’ with its contract for a so-called IMSI Catcher, which can collect texts, phone calls and location data from people with a mobile phone as far as 8km away.
It means if the equipment was placed on Weston Police Station in Walliscote Grove Road, it could gather data from people as far away as Wick St Lawrence, Brean and Hewish.
The cash-strapped force has been accused of ‘policing by the backdoor’ after taking out a £167,575 contract in May 2015 for a CCDC (Covert Communications Data Capture) device, also known as an IMSI Catcher.
Matthew Rice, advocacy officer at Privacy International said: “Innocent members of the public will be caught up in this suspicionless surveillance, it is inevitable.”
The police’s CCDC contract ran out earlier this year, but the constabulary will not reveal if it has been used, or what has been done with the data of people captured by the device who are not part of police operations.
It would also not reveal if it has a written policy in place for the use of surveillance equipment.
Responding to a series of questions from the Mercury, a constabulary spokesman said: “There are a number of techniques utilised by law enforcement to protect the public which, due to their covert nature, are not openly discussed to maintain their effectiveness.
“Strict operating procedures surrounding the use of covert policing tactics and equipment are in place, which are governed by appropriate authority and legislative requirements.”
After the contract was revealed by media co-operative Bristol Cable, the force removed the information from its website for ‘the protection of national security’.
However, Mr Rice said the revelation the force had bought an IMSI Catcher represented ‘a new frontier for indiscriminate surveillance’.
He said: “Instead of coming further into the light, we have seen backtracking by Avon and Somerset to remove the original information that showed they had bought the spy gear.
“This is a ridiculous attempt to avoid scrutiny and accountability by the public. The genie is already out of the bottle.
“Police should be coming forward with more information to explain what is going on, not try to hide that this has ever taken place.
“This isn’t policing by consent, this is policing by the backdoor.”
Outstanding questions not answered by the force include whether it has renewed the IMSI Catcher contract.