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Privacy International challenges Brit cops’ use of ‘intrusive’ IMSI catchers

RIGHTS GROUP Privacy International has launched a legal challenge against British cops’ use of “intrusive” IMSI catchers.

The use of IMSI catchers – tech that mimics mobile phone towers to connect with devices – among police forces was first revealed back in 2016 after a Freedom of Information (FoI) request by The Bristol Cable revealed that a number of forces had purchased the monitoring tools.

The Met spent more than £1m on IMSI catchers in 2015, the request revealed, while Avon and Somerset and South Yorkshire forces threw £170,000 and £144,000 on the controversial surveillance tech. 

While the use of the tech is public knowledge, cops have repeatedly refused to disclose information on their purchase and use of IMSI catchers.

Privacy International has made multiple FOI requests – to forces including Avon & Somerset Police, the Metropolitan Police Service, South Yorkshire Police, Staffordshire Police, Warwickshire Police, West Mercia Police and West Midlands Police – and each refused every category of the request on grounds that they could “neither confirm nor deny” whether they held the information.

After an appeal to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) which saw the watchdog take the side of the police, Privacy International, represented by Liberty, has today filed an appeal with the First-Tier tribunal challenging the forces’ refusal to hand over the information.

The group, which last week challenge Brit cops’ use of mobile phone extraction, argues that allowing police to ‘neither confirm nor deny’  has allowed the secret purchase and deployment of this “intrusive and indiscriminate” surveillance technology for years.

Scarlet Kim, legal officer for Privacy International said: “For years, the police forces have relied on a knee-jerk ‘neither confirm nor deny’ reaction to requests for information about their purchase and use of IMSI catchers, even as reports continue to trickle out that they have spent hundreds of thousands of pounds on this technology.

“This secrecy is all the more troubling given the indiscriminate manner in which IMSI catchers operate. These tools are particularly ripe for abuse when used at public gatherings, such as protests, where the government can easily collect data about all those attending.

“We hope that the First-tier Tribunal will finally permit us to shed much-needed light on police use of this intrusive surveillance technology.”

Liberty’s lawyer Megan Goulding added that it’s “vital” the public is able to access information on the indiscriminate surveillance technology used against us.

“We hope the Tribunal acknowledges the threat to our rights and encourages a more diligent approach from the Information Commissioner’s Office,” she added. µ

Further reading

Source : Inquirer

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