London Police To Extract Data From Suspects' Mobile Phones — And Keep It Even If No Charges Are Brought

from the hands-off-my-digital-DNA dept

As the mobile phone moves closer to the center of daily life in many parts of the world, combining phone, computer, camera, diary, music player, and much else all in one, it becomes a concentrated store of the digital DNA that defines us — who we talk to, what we search for, who we meet, what we listen to. However convenient that may be for us as users, it’s also extremely dangerous if it falls into the wrong hands.

Unfortunately, in the UK, it looks like London’s police force must now join the list of “wrong hands”:

The Metropolitan Police has implemented a system to extract mobile phone data from suspects held in custody.

The data includes call history, texts and contacts, and the BBC has learned that it will be retained regardless of whether any charges are brought.

If a crime has been committed, there is an argument that extracting the data in this way in order to secure a conviction might be justified if carried out with appropriate authorization. But clearly, keeping all that highly personal data as a matter of course, even if no charges are brought, is a breach of privacy and human rights.

It’s also pretty pointless. After all, anyone who uses their phone for nefarious purposes will make sure that they can render the contents irrevocably inaccessible with just a couple of clicks – apps that let you do this are likely to proliferate in the wake of this latest development. So most of the data gathered by the police will be that of law-abiding citizens, who don’t feel the need to take this precaution.

However, there is an interesting parallel here with the similarly unjustified retention of a suspect’s DNA, even if no charges were brought, that took place routinely in the UK from 2004. The European Court of Human Rights deemed this a breach of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which provides a “Right to respect for private and family life”, and the UK government was forced to change its approach. The same logic would seem to apply in the case of the digital DNA held on our mobile phones. Let’s hope the UK police consider this before rolling out their disproportionate plans.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or, and on Google+

Filed Under: , , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “London Police To Extract Data From Suspects' Mobile Phones — And Keep It Even If No Charges Are Brought”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Another AC says:

Re: Common Sense

Is this sarcasm? I can’t tell but I hope it is.

As a thought experiment, let’s see if that ‘common sense’ still actually makes sense as we ratchet up the invasion of privacy shall we?

The Government is rifling through your mail… “So don’t use the postal service”, right?

The Government is following you everywhere in your car… “So don’t drive cars” right?

The Government is searching your home while you’re out… “So don’t live in your home” right?

The Government is arresting its political enemies… “So don’t go out in public” right?

At what point does the argument stop making sense for you?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Common Sense

At what point does ranting like a lunatic about things you wish weren’t true but can’t prevent work for you? You can bawl your eyes out all you want and nothing will get any better. Some people, at least, can be smarter than them.

If you can’t live without a cell phone, give up now, because you’re part of the problem you’re bawling about.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Common Sense

It stopped making sense when you said they would be following me in my car. How did the government get into my car? Who taught the government how to drive? Do they have a drivers license, and does it have a RFID chip in it? Will they fill up the gas tank when they are done?

Anonymous Coward says:

Android encryption

Does anyone know how this scraping would fare against Android encryption available in Android 3 and 4?

Am I right in thinking than Android encrypts contacts, call records, etc. and so these would not be legible, but a separate app would be required to encrypt the SD card? Yes? No?

Are there any known weaknesses to Androids encryption?
Are there any back doors that Google can access?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Android encryption

Thanks Paul, I know about WhisperCore. It’s only for Nexus One and Galaxy Nexus. Also, since it was sold to Twitter the download has been pulled.

Android includes encryption options now (since 3.0) but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t do the SD card.
I want to know how secure it is, and what it encrypts/what it doesn’t encrypt….

Anonymous Coward says:

good old UK. if any other country goes down the citizen surveillance route, they’re condemned. now the UK is/has started it’s own website visit/e-mail surveillance, this is just an extension that they ‘forgot to mention’. personal privacy is going. human rights are going. freedom is going. and think back to why it started and who started it!

Dave says:


This is just getting worse. Why should police hang on to the data just for the sake of it if there has been no charge and, presumably, no crime? I don’t want any old Joe Bloggs raking through my private information. How can they be allowed to get away with such an outrageous idea? If it was a private company doing this, The Information Commissioner’s Office and the EU would be on to them (hopefully) like the proverbial tone of bricks. Anyone who is up to no good will encrypt anyway. This has been stated so many times and yet those allegedly in charge don’t seem to take this on board.

Joe says:

If it works for DNA, video, fingerprints, license plate scanners, and the color of your hair, then why not for cell phones? Yeah, this is totally not going to come and bite them in the a** within the next 20 years. All it would take is a war and the enemy getting ahold of all this data, to totally make a cluster**** out of the UK. Even the secret police back in the 1940’s had this all come back to haunt them when their side lost the war in Germany. That is not even mentioning how it was used against non-police.

abc gum says:

I’m guessing that the police will soon be (if not already) selling the information gathered to whom ever will pay for it.

This coming from a country where rampant phone hacking has been acceptable behavior for many years. Only recently has this become an issue because of the many complaints there were finally a few which had sufficient influence. As it is with these situations, there are a few scape goats which have their hands slapped, politicians promise safeguards will be put in place and everything goes back to the way it was before the big commotion started.

It is interesting how the two sets of rules also applies in this situation. It is perfectly acceptable to spy upon the little people, trampling their rights in new ways everyday. But if there is even the possibility of big wig rights encroachment, the hammer will fall hard my friend.

earl says:

The latest android version (ice cream sandwich) Has the option for you to encrypt your device(including SD card) and have it decrypt upon putting in a key at boot.

So if you get in a scuffle with the police, unless filming them is pertinent at the time, turn your phone off, and the filth wont be able to rifle through your stuff uninvited.

Son-Tae,CHU says:

Please help me Sir or Ma'am

Hello sir ~ ~

I live in South Korea is son-tae,CHU.

Scotland Yard web site address if you know you let me know.

$ 16,000.00 to the woman I met on the internet and got voice phishing.

two days ago I send a evidence document by BBC broadcasting evidence and transfer documents and sent her home address and office address, but no reply yet.

South Korea did not receive help from the British Embassy.

E-mail address or web site if you facet London police station, then please let us know.

Thanks a million.



Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...