The Metropolitan Police: Ushering in a covert UK police state?

Earlier this year I reported on the Metropolitan Police’s purchase of the digital tracking software Geotime. The security program, used by the US military, collates digital data and then can generate a three-dimensional graphic showing an individual’s movements and communications with other people. It can collect the information from social networking sites, satellite navigation equipment, mobile phones, IP logs, and even financial transactions.

The purchase led to an outcry from civil rights campaigners. At the time, there were reports of the undercover police who infiltrated green activist groups, sometimes sleeping with activists to gain their trust. There was also the report of John Catt, an 86 year old man, who has had his presence at peaceful protests and demos logged in secret by police units over four years, despite never having been convicted or accused of illegal activity. Rightly so, people were worried about the implications of the Met Police having such advanced surveillance technology. Could they be trusted to use it conservatively? Legally?

Now the Met has purchased more covert surveillance technology, this time in the form of technology that allows them to directly control and intercept mobile phones within a 10 sq km radius. The technology masquerades “as a mobile phone network, transmitting a signal that allows authorities to shut off phones remotely, intercept communications and gather data about thousands of users in a targeted area.”

Strictly classified as “Listed X” under government protocol, “it can emit a signal over an area of up to an estimated 10 sq km, forcing hundreds of mobile phones per minute to release their unique IMSI and IMEI identity codes, which can be used to track a person’s movements in real time,” the Guardian reports.

So far, The Met has refused to confirm whether the system is used in public order situations, such as during large protests or demonstrations. The Met would not comment on its use of the technology or give details of where or when it had been used.

The use of the technology by The Met raises serious concerns. Nick Pickles, director of privacy and civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch, warned the technology could give police the ability to conduct “blanket and indiscriminate” monitoring: “It raises a number of serious civil liberties concerns and clarification is urgently needed on when and where this technology has been deployed, and what data has been gathered,” he said.

“Such invasive surveillance must be tightly regulated, authorised at the highest level and only used in the most serious of investigations. It should be absolutely clear that only data directly relating to targets of investigations is monitored or stored,” he said.

Such technology, coupled with the Geotime software, could allow The Met to gather highly sensitive data about innocent people without their knowledge, for example with large numbers of protestors at a peaceful demonstration. The technology could not only track their movements, but also record and intercept any SMS messages sent or phone calls made. It could also transmit a signal that allows authorities to shut off phones remotely, leading to a scenario such as in Egypt when mobile phone networks were shut down at the behest of the government during a time of civil unrest.

This is also coming after the UK riots, when Cameron is stated to have wanted to shut down the internet. There were fears that the riots were largely organised through the use of mobile phones and social networking sites. As a result, the government was considering options that included shutting down internet access, and closing or monitoring the Blackberry network. Although Cameron was persuaded against such measures, it is still worrying that such measures were considered. As technology improves, it will become easier to enact such control measures with ease. Future rioting, and further pressure from the media and the British public, could lead to such proposals becoming a reality.

Although the government did not enact these proposals, The Met has the technology to enact such policies, with the ability to shut down mobile phone networks within a large radius [10 sq km]. The transmitters can be about the size of a suitcase, and can be placed in a vehicle or at another static location and operated remotely by officers wirelessly. This could possibly lead to several such transmitters, covering a radius over several kilometres. Even if The Met does not shut down mobile phones, they have the ability to monitor and collate information covertly from thousands of users in a targeted area.

Index on Censorship, a British free speech organization, warned that the right to freedom of expression in the country was at risk after the UK riots saw the government announcing potential plans to censor and restrict internet access. Their letter to William Hague is still relevant:

“The government’s record on freedom of expression and privacy is less than ideal. Britain’s desire to promote these ideals internationally are being hampered by domestic policy,” the group said.

“The government is currently considering greater controls over what legal material people are allowed to access on the Internet. This is clear from recent public support by the Prime Minister, and through Claire Perry MP’s ongoing inquiry, for plans to filter adult and other legal material on UK Internet connections by default. The new PREVENT counter-terrorism strategy contains similar proposals for the filtering of material that is legal but deemed undesirable. Earlier this year the Prime Minister suggested there should be more powers to block access to social media, a policy that drew praise from China and which the government swiftly backed away from. There are also plans for more pervasive powers to surveil and access people’s personal information online.”

The group concluded: “We call for the UK government to seize this opportunity to reject censorship and surveillance that undermines people’s rights to express themselves, organize or communicate freely. That is the only way to both enshrine the rights of citizens in the UK and to support these principles internationally.”

Walking into a Police State?

The procurement of such technology in the hands of the UK’s biggest police force is potentially worrying. There is nothing to ensure that innocent people, in their hundreds or even thousands, are not covertly spied upon. The technology now allows vast amounts of data to effortlessly be collected on thousands of people simultaneously. Such data would include movements through time and space, SMS messages sent, recorded phone calls, IP logs, social networking info, and much more. Such technology also allows for the police to wirelessly shut down mobile phones within a very large radius, leading to a mobile phone blackout in a specific, controlled area.

Next time a riot occurs in London, I would find it difficult to imagine The Met not utilising such technology.

During the last riots, the media and the British public were frenetic, calling for draconian measures to stop the looting. Such reactions have led to harsh prison sentences designed to “send a message” rather than enact proper justice, calls for the internet to be shut down, measures to ensure that the police have access to water cannons for the first time, and more. There were even calls from some members of the public to enact martial law.

If another riot broke out in the future, which is not implausible, I would find it difficult to believe that The Met would not utilise their Datong mobile surveillance technology, in conjunction with Geotime. Such technology would allow them to track and monitor, covertly, the movements and communications of thousands of people simultaneously.

Initially, thousands would be monitored covertly but, after calls from the public and the government, The Met would (undoubtedly) shut down mobile phone communications across specific areas.

But this is not all.

Now it has been revealed that The Met has a fleet of spy planes, each costing around £3m each.

The planes have been in use since 1997, though their existence has never been publicly disclosed. The planes cost around £3m each, and many hundreds of thousands more to operate. Despite the vast cuts (around 20% of their budget) the police face, the spy planes are still in use, flying regular sorties.

As The Independant reports: “The planes have apparently been fitted with secret surveillance equipment capable of intercepting mobile phone calls or eavesdropping on conversations.”

So now we have secret spy planes, military-grade digital tracking software and technology that fits in a suitcase, intercepting and controlling thousands of mobile phone technology. Yes, it reads like a dystopian, science fiction text, along the lines of Ghost In The Shell, Blade Runner or even 1984.

My question is, are we walking into a covert police state? Is it, perhaps, becoming an electronic police state? Wikipedia defines such a state as:

Electronic police states are characterized by government surveillance of telephone traffic, cellular telephone traffic, emails, Internet surfing, video surveillance and other forms of electronic (including fiber optic) tracking. A crucial characteristic of this process is that the data is gathered universally and silently, and only later organized for use in prosecutions in legal proceedings.

The inhabitants of an electronic police state may be almost fully unaware that their communications and activities are being recorded by the state, or that these records are usable as evidence against them in courts of law.

It also goes on to say:

The United Kingdom is often seen as an advanced electronic police state, with mass surveillance and detention without trial having been introduced by the government, followed by Home Secretary Jacqui Smith’s MTI program, which aims to intercept and monitor all e-mails, website visits and social networking sessions in Britain, and to track telephone calls made over the internet as well as all phone calls to land lines and mobiles.

Do we trust The Met to hold such technology, and to use it appropriately and legally? Is technology developing too quickly, outpacing civil liberties we once took for granted?

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Can we trust the police to hold our information?

The end of an era! (Day 266 of 365)

Image by Gene Hunt via Flickr

The recent scandal that engulfed the News of the World and led to its closure has much wider implications, many of which are still coming to light.

The police have come under scrutiny after Rebekah Brooks revealed that journalists paid police for information. The former News of the World editor told a Commons committee in 2003 that journalists “had paid police for information in the past”, although last week Brooks denied that she had any “knowledge of any specific cases”.

The fallout from the phone-hacking scandal is affecting trust in the police, already leading to Met Police Assistant Commissioner John Yates‘ resignation after growing pressure. The Met’s director of public affairs, Dick Fedorcio, has also come under fire. Fedorcio was responsible for employing Neil Wallis, former News of the World deputy Editor, who was arrested last week on suspicion of intercepting voicemail messages. Fedorcio was allegedly wined and dined by News of the World journalists on at least seven occasions. On one occasion in 2006, the Evening Standard reports, “Mr Fedorcio and former Assistant Commissioner Andy Hayman met then NoW editor Andy Coulson and his deputy, Mr Wallis, for dinner at Soho House private members’ club in Covent Garden. At the time, Mr Hayman was in charge of the phone-hacking probe.”

Chris Bryant, MP, said: “A judge sitting in a court case on the newspaper would not be dining with its editors and I don’t see why members of Scotland Yard should have done either.”

The issue here is greater than that of a corrupt media empire which resorts to underhanded, illegal activities to sell sleazy stories. The real worry is the image of a corrupt and untrustworthy police force in an age of greater police power and surveillance. The police are continually expanding their powers and surveillance but they have not been able to show that they are to be trusted with such power and information.

Rebekah Brooks has alleged that journalists paid police for information. If this is true, as well as being an outrage, it would also destroy all trust in a service that is continually looking to increase its surveillance and create large databases of information on the public, many of whom have never been convicted of a criminal offence. Big Brother Watch reported that a new Police National Database has been launched which will be accessible by over 12,000 people. This database will link together 150 computer systems with intelligence from all 43 police forces in England and Wales, including other policing organisations such as the Serious and Organised Crime Agency (SOCA). Taking eight years to finalise, the scheme was initiated by technology firm Logica – with contributions from other agencies including IBM Initiate, Huntsman, Microsoft Fact, Northgate, Oracle and Sunguard

This database will hold information over up to 15 million people, 6 million of whom are innocent or have been the victims of crime. Recent allegations and such scandals as the NotW phone-hacking affair have shown that the police force is not infallible. If Brooks’ allegations are true, then it shows that private information held by the police can be bought for a price.

Not only does it show that the police are susceptible to payments but recent hacking by the NotW and organisations such as LulzSec and Anonymous show that no information held on a website/database/mobile phone/etc is truly secure, so should we trust the police force and its obsession with ever-encompassing databases? Its obsession with ever-increasing mass surveillance?

I recently reported that the Met have bought have bought a security programme which can track suspects and their associates in the digital world, called Geotime. The security program is used by the US military. As I reported, ‘It can collate digital data and can be used to generate a three-dimensional graphic,  showing an individual’s movements and communications with other people. It can collect the information from social networking sites, satellite navigation equipment, mobile phones, IP logs, and even financial transactions.’

And, as I reported in the article, Alex Hanff, the campaigns manager at Privacy International, said: “Once millions and millions of pieces of microdata are aggregated, you end up with this very high-resolution picture of somebody, and this is effectively what they are doing here. We shouldn’t be tracked and traced and have pictures built by our own government and police for the benefit of commercial gain.”

Clearly, this sort of power, information and surveillance is not trusted in the hands of an organisation that is embroiled in scandal at the present time. What assurances are there that corrupt journalists, most likely from Murdoch’s empire, will not pay police in the future to gain access to such information? Software such as Geotime that can collate such private digital data is clearly more intrusive than hacking someone’s voicemails.

Sean Hoare, the former News of the World showbusiness reporter who was the first named journalist to allege that Andy Coulson was aware of phone hacking by his staff, has been found dead at at his home yesterday. Adding further fuel to the blazing fire that is engulfing the press, Parliament and the police, Hoare’s death is currently not being treated as suspicious by the police, but the timing is certainly odd. Hoare recently had told the New York Times that NotW journalists were able to use police technology to locate people using their mobile phone signals, in exchange for payments of course.

Hoare said journalists were able to use “pinging”, which measured the distance between a mobile handset and a number of phone masts to pinpoint its location. Hoare described how reporters would ask a news desk executive to obtain the location of a target: “Within 15 to 30 minutes someone on the news desk would come back and say ‘Right, that’s where they are.'”

Given these allegations, what assurances do we have that, in the future, journalists will not be able to use even more advances police technology to track people? As stated, software such as Geotime can generate a 3D graphic showing an individual’s movements and communications, and collate information from ‘social networking sites, satellite navigation equipment, mobile phones, IP logs, and even financial transactions’. If the wide-reaching NotW scandal erupted because of the hacking of mobile phones, what sort of implications would emerge once journalists paid police for information regarding an individual’s social networking sites, their IP logs, financial transactions, etc? When technology such as ‘pinging’ begins to look archaic and instead corrupt journalists can pay for a 3-dimensinal graphic showing an individual’s complete movements, their communications with others, etc?

The police need to prove, somehow, that they are trustworthy and responsible enough to handle such private and personal information. They need to show that they can securely and safely use software such as Geotime, which has many dangerous implications if used by corrupt individuals.

Latest images from Greece protests

Moltov cocktail explodes near riot police guarding the Greek parliament in Athens, June 15, 2011. Tens of thousands of grassroot activists and unionists converged on Athens' central Syntagma (Constitution) Square Wednesday as Prime Minister George Papandreou prepared to push through a new five-year campaign of tax hikes, spending cuts and selloffs of state property to continue receiving aid from the European Union and International Monetary Fund and avoid default. (Reuters)

A Greek riot police officer kicks a protester that was trying to calm other protesters down during clashes in Athens' main Syntagma square, Wednesday, June 15, 2011. Hundreds of protesters clashed with riot police in central Athens Wednesday as a major anti-austerity rally degenerated into violence outside Parliament, where the struggling government was to seek support for new cutbacks to avoid a disastrous default. (Lefteris Pitarakis)

Greek riot police officers throw tear gas as they chase protesters during clashes in Athens' main Syntagma square, Wednesday, June 15, 2011. The banner reads in Greek: 'Continuous strikes, until victory'. Hundreds of protesters clashed with riot police in central Athens Wednesday as a major anti-austerity rally degenerated into violence outside Parliament, where the struggling government was to seek support for new cutbacks to avoid a disastrous default. (Lefteris Pitarakis)

A Greek riot police officer chases protesters during riots in central Athens Wednesday, June 15, 2011. Riot police made heavy use of tear gas Wednesday to disperse groups of masked anarchists hurling firebombs and rocks on the sidelines of a major rally outside Parliament, where the struggling government was to seek support for new cutbacks required to avoid a debt default. (Petros Giannakouris)

A Greek protester throws plastic bottles into a fire that was lit by protesters to combat the effects of tear gas, thrown by riot police, not seen, during clashes in Athens' main Syntagma square, Wednesday, June 15, 2011. Hundreds of protesters clashed with riot police in central Athens Wednesday as a major anti-austerity rally degenerated into violence outside Parliament, where the struggling government was to seek support for new cutbacks to avoid a disastrous default. (Lefteris Pitarakis)

A protester tries to cover her face from the effects of tear gas shot by police during clashes in Athens' main Syntagma square, Wednesday, June 15, 2011. Hundreds of protesters clashed with riot police in central Athens Wednesday as a major anti-austerity rally degenerated into violence outside Parliament, where the struggling government was to seek support for new cutbacks to avoid a disastrous default. (Lefteris Pitarakis)

A demonstrator argues with a police officer outside the Greek Parliament during a rally against plans for new austerity measures, in central Athens, Wednesday, June 15, 2011. A 24-hour anti-austerity strike by Greece's largest labor unions crippled public services Wednesday, as the Socialist government was to begin a legislative battle to push through last-ditch cost-cutting reforms that will extend beyond its own term in office. (Lefteris Pitarakis)

A protester throws stones towards a riot policeman taking cover behind a shutter at the ministry of Finance during riots in central Athens Wednesday, June 15, 2011. Riot police made heavy use of tear gas Wednesday to disperse groups of masked anarchists hurling firebombs and rocks on the sidelines of a major rally outside Parliament, where the struggling government was to seek support for new cutbacks required to avoid a debt default. (Petros Giannakouris)

Police arrest a demonstrator trying to block the road to the Parliament during a rally against plans for new austerity measures, in central Athens, Wednesday, June 15, 2011. A 24-hour anti-austerity strike by Greece's largest labor unions crippled public services Wednesday, as the Socialist government was to begin a legislative battle to push through last-ditch cost-cutting reforms that will extend beyond its own term in office. (AP Photo)

A Greek protester runs with a baton to hit a riot police officer during clashes in Athens' main Syntagma square, Wednesday, June 15, 2011. Hundreds of protesters clashed with riot police in central Athens Wednesday as a major anti-austerity rally degenerated into violence outside Parliament, where the struggling government was to seek support for new cutbacks to avoid a disastrous default. (Lefteris Pitarakis)

Part 2 can be found here.

Part 3 can be found here.

UK Met Police to use lethal “hollow point” bullets that are banned in warfare

.45 ACP Federal HST 230gr hollow point cartrid...

Image via Wikipedia

The Metropolitan Police is to arm all of its firearms officers with a lethal type of ammunition known as “hollow point” bullets which flatten and expand upon penetration, causing maximum damage to tissues and vital organs. The use of these rounds are prohibited in warfare under the Hague Convention.

Wikipedia describes hollow point rounds as being “intended to cause the bullet to expand upon entering a target in order to decrease penetration and disrupt more tissue as it travels through the target.”, “maximizing tissue damage and blood loss or shock.”

The Met says that the rounds are less likely to harm bystanders, as the bullets are less likely to over-penetrate and harm others when used in crowded spaces. These special rounds were used in the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes, a Brazilian who was falsely identified as being a suicide bomber, and was shot dead in 2005. The BBC says: “After it emerged he was killed with the ammunition, cousin Alex Pereira said: “I am shocked and angry. I had no idea. How can the police in the UK use bullets that the Army is not allowed to use?”

According to Channel 4 news, “talks have begun with other police forces to make this type of bullet standard issue in time for the 2012 Olympics.” The head of the Met’s Firearms Unit, Commander Jerry Savill, said he was confident that it will be standard among all UK police forces by next summer.

These special rounds are already standard issue in France, though whilst being used in police ammunition, hollow point rounds are prohibited in warfare under the Hague Convention, due to their being seen as inhumane to opposing soldiers.

David Dyson, a barrister and ballistics consultant, commented on the use of the ammunition. Asked whether the rounds were unsurvivable, he said: “Yes. They don’t use these bullets in the anticipation that people will survive. They expand, so you get the mushroom effect when the bullet hits the body.”

“Much more energy is being imparted into the victim.”

Mr Dyson added that deer stalkers are compelled to use them because they do not go right through the animal.

Outcry from civil liberty groups as Police buy digital tracking software

One Nation Under CCTV

Image by tj.blackwell via Flickr

The Metropolitan Police have bought a security programme which can track suspects and their associates in the digital world, prompting a backlash from civil liberties groups and privacy campaigners, the Guardian reports.

The Met, Britain’s largest police force, has its hands on Geotime, a security programme used by the US military. It can collate digital data and can be used to generate a three-dimensional graphic,  showing an individual’s movements and communications with other people. It can collect the information from social networking sites, satellite navigation equipment, mobile phones, IP logs, and even financial transactions.

Given the contention with the Met’s policing of the recent demonstrations, it is natural that there would be an outcry against such a purchase. It is emerging that the Met has been keeping tabs on “domestic extremists” – ordinary citizens who attend peaceful demonstrations or affiliate with activist groups. A recent example has been that of John Catt, an 86 year old man, who has had his presence at peaceful protests and demos logged in secret by police units over four years. He is currently attempting legal action against the police. He has no criminal record, yet has been systematically stalked by police units.

There has also been an outcry against the infiltration of green activist groups by undercover police of late. Civil rights and privacy campaigners and lawyers are expressing concern at how the software could potentially be used to monitor innocent parties, in breach of data protection legislation. As their current track record is not immaculate, these concerns are potentially very valid.

Alex Hanff, the campaigns manager at Privacy International, said: “Once millions and millions of pieces of microdata are aggregated, you end up with this very high-resolution picture of somebody, and this is effectively what they are doing here.”

“We shouldn’t be tracked and traced and have pictures built by our own government and police for the benefit of commercial gain.”

Sarah McSherry, a partner at Christian Khan Solicitors, which represents several protesters in cases against the Metropolitan police, said: “We have already seen the utilisation of a number of tactics which infringe the right to peaceful protest, privacy and freedom of expression, assembly and movement. All of these have a chilling effect on participation in peaceful protest.”

“This latest tool could also be used in a wholly invasive way and could fly in the face of the role of the police to facilitate rather than impede the activities of democratic protesters.”

The Met has confirmed that Geotime has been paid for, yet has declined to give a figure. Several possible uses for the software are being assessed, yet there has been no comment on whether the software might be used during investigations into public order offences.

In an email, a spokesperson for the Met stated: “We are in the process of evaluating the Geotime software to explore how it could possibly be used to assist us in understanding patterns in data relating to both space and time. A decision has yet to be made as to whether we will adopt the technology [permanently]. We have used dummy data to look at how the software works and have explored how we could use it to examine police vehicle movements, crime patterns and telephone investigations.”

Alongside the Met, the Ministry of Defence is also examining Geotime. A spokesman said: “The MoD is assessing Geotime as part of its research programme but it is not currently being used on operations.”

Man throws snowball at police, faces court

Firstly, welcome once more to Police State Britain, soon to be renamed Airstrip One. A man who threw a snowball at a police officer just before Christmas faces a second court hearing next week after being charged with “common assault”.

Dean Smith, aged 31, had been playing with his family and five-year old stepson in the snow. A playful snowball fight ensued, and Dean threw a snowball at a police officer who was nearby. Nothing more happened until three days later when police officers arrived at his house in a riot van, handcuffed him, and charged him with “common assault”. Now I don’t know what nationality the officers were, but here in Airstrip One snow is not that “common”. Personally, I would have called that an uncommon assault. After all, it’s not everyday you get “assaulted” by snowballs, is it?

It’s a total joke,” said Smith. “I had been playing with my stepson, having a little snowball fight. I had one snowball in my left hand and saw the police officer and just threw it at her as a joke – I’m not even sure it hit her. Nothing happened so I didn’t think much more of it. Then three days later [the police] turned up at my house in a riot van and arrested me for assaulting a PC. I couldn’t believe it – I thought they had the wrong person.”

Nobody has been able to believe what is happening,” Smith continues. “Even other police officers I have spoken with since were laughing, saying they can’t believe [the case] is going ahead.” The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is deciding whether to proceed with the case or give Smith a caution. “What really gets me is how much money this has cost the taxpayer,” Smith said.

Video footage of police man-handling disabled protestor

Video footage has surfaced of a disabled protestor being pulled from his wheelchair by police, dragged along the pavement several yards and then dumped on the curb of the pavement. Sympathetic protestors attempt to save the man from the police but to no avail. One police officer is then seen to be aggressively pulled to the side by a fellow officer! Evidently due to the fact that he was too heavy-handed and thuggish in his actions towards a handicapped protestor. Each day more footage and imagery are coming to light showing the police brutality in the recent demonstrators – many with no identifying numbers on their lapels meaning no accountability! Watch the video for yourself and make up your own minds, however. (Warning – some strong language is used by the shocked witnesses)

The BBC interview with Jody McIntyre, the disabled protestor in the video above, can be found below. It must be said that the BBC interview seems slightly biased and accusatory, but I will leave it up to you to form your own opinions. Leave comments below to share your view. Big respect for Jody McIntyre and much sympathy for him and his cause.