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.
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.
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.
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.