London police buy surveillance tech to track cell phone users

business men cell phone walkingCivil liberty concerns are being raised across the pond as Britain’s largest police force was revealed to be operating a surveillance system which masks itself as a fake phone network. The surveillance technology has the ability to track cell phones, gather data and even remotely shut off devices.

London’s Metropolitan Police has been doing business with a Leeds-based company called Datong plc, according to the Guardian. Datong was publicly listed in 2005 and does business with close to 40 countries including South America and the Middle East.The 37-year old company designs products which aid military, law enforcement and security agencies gather intelligence and anticipate threat. They have contracts with US government agencies such as the Secret Service, Bureau of Immigration as well as the Ministry of Defense.

Datong demonstrated its products in London recently, showing that its devices could intercept SMS messages by masking as a false network. The transceiver which the Met has procured is roughly the size of a suitcase and can be placed in a vehicle operated remotely. Classified as “Listed X”, the device emits a signal that forces hundreds of cell phones each minute to release unique identity codes allowing user movement to be tracked. Datong’s systems also have the ability to send out a denial of service, which the company says can be used to cut off trigger’s to explosive devices.

By UK law  covert surveillance is regulated by Ripa, an act that states warrants must be authorized and be proportionate and necessary; only in the interests of national security, serious crimes or economic stability is covert surveillance allowed.

The controversy that has arisen stems from whether this device’s intrusion is proportionate. Barrister Jonathan Lennon, a Ripa specialist, said, “there needs to be clarification on whether interception of multiple people’s communications—when you can’t even necessarily identify who the people are—is compliant with the act.”

The Metropolitan Police Force has refused to comment on how the Datong tech is being used; the Met has also declined to say whether the surveillance equipment will be used during large protests or demonstrations.