The Guardian reports on the use of cellphone-monitoring systems by police in the United Kingdom:
Britain’s largest police force is operating covert surveillance technology that can masquerade as a mobile phone network, transmitting a signal that allows authorities to shut off phones remotely, intercept communications and gather data about thousands of users in a targeted area.
The surveillance system has been procured by the Metropolitan police from Leeds-based company Datong plc, which counts the US Secret Service, the Ministry of Defence and regimes in the Middle East among its customers. Strictly classified under government protocol as “Listed X”, it can emit a signal over an area of up to an estimated 10 sq km, forcing hundreds of mobile phones per minute to release their unique IMSI and IMEI identity codes, which can be used to track a person’s movements in real time.
The disclosure has caused concern among lawyers and privacy groups that large numbers of innocent people could be unwittingly implicated in covert intelligence gathering. The Met has refused to confirm whether the system is used in public order situations, such as during large protests or demonstrations.
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 […]
The company’s systems, showcased at the DSEi arms fair in east London last month, allow authorities to intercept SMS messages and phone calls by secretly duping mobile phones within range into operating on a false network, where they can be subjected to “intelligent denial of service”. This function is designed to cut off a phone used as a trigger for an explosive device. […]
Between 2004 and 2009 Datong won over $1.6 (£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. Official records also show Datong entered into contracts worth more than £500,000 with the Ministry of Defence in 2009. […]
In May the Guardian revealed the Met had purchased software used to map suspects’ digital movements using data gathered from social networking sites, satnav equipment, mobile phones, financial transactions and IP network logs. The force said the software was being tested using “dummy data” to explore how it could be used to examine “police vehicle movements, crime patterns and telephone investigations.”