British police forces are preparing to spend up to £20m on hacking technology that can bypass smartphone encryption software, NS Tech can reveal.
The plans are detailed in a prior information
notice, and could represent a significant expansion of the technology’s deployment in the UK.
Under the proposals, Northamptonshire Police will team up with the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) to establish a framework enabling forces to buy tech from a central unit.
The notice also reveals that forces will be able to procure software development and extraction training services through the framework when it launches later this year.
“It is hoped that through this dynamic purchasing system police forces can work in partnership with digital suppliers to ensure the market can develop alongside the
Police forces have become increasingly reliant on extraction software in recent years as smartphones have harvested more data about people’s behaviour. But it’s feared the law has struggled to keep pace with the technology and there is a lack of oversight of the way in which it is deployed.
The Information Commissioner’s Office confirmed to NS Tech that it had launched an investigation into the use of the technology by law enforcement agencies.
“[This] is a priority area for the Information Commissioner, and the ICO has an ongoing investigation into
Scarlet Kim, a lawyer at Privacy International, warned that police forces had struggled to identify which law they were relying on to carry out data extractions.
“They have not made it clear whether they’re relying on
Concerns have also been raised about the fact that officers do not need a warrant to access data on the phones of suspects, victims and witnesses, and that a disproportionate amount of data is being downloaded. In some cases, campaigners have reported that officers have downloaded the entire contents of a users’ phone.
Some critics have claimed that such use of the technology may discourage witnesses from coming forward, fearing their entire phone’s data could be accessed.
Nick Baker, deputy chief constable of Staffordshire Police and NPCC lead for digital forensics, played down such allegations, saying that “full downloads” were very rare.
“Most investigations are about proportionate lines of inquiry,” he told NS Tech. “What we’re endeavouring to do is put the same level of proportionality into these investigations.”
“If you’re talking about a sexual offence between a suspect and a victim, if it’s a
He added that under some laws officers do not need court warrants to search suspects’ properties and that if they needed a warrant every time they wanted to search a phone, it could lead to “inertia” with courts overwhelmed by the volume of requests.
The ICO said it would be reporting on the outcome of its investigation in due course.