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[FYI] (Fwd) Observer Front Page: Police to track mobile phone users
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- Date: Sun, 30 Jul 2000 19:54:04 +0000
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Subject: Observer Front Page: Police to track mobile phone users
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Police to track mobile phone users
Antony Barnett, public affairs editor
Sunday July 30, 2000
Police are to be given new powers to track people using satellite
technology that can pick up signals emitted from mobile phones.
In a move denounced as sinister by civil liberties campaigners,
software being fitted into the new generation of mobiles will enable
police to pinpoint the exact whereabouts of a person whenever the
phone is switched on.
But privacy campaigners fear the police could use the new phones as
homing devices that will allow them to carry out mass surveillance
without those targeted knowing about it One campaigner likened it to
putting an `electronic tag' on large swathes of the population.
The Government and the police say the powers are needed to fight
certain crimes, including drug trafficking. They believe the
technology will guide paramedics and firefighters to the locations of
These unprecedented powers are part of the Regulatory of Investigatory
Powers Bill which received Royal Assent on Friday. They will allow the
security services to intercept private emails.
Privacy campaigners and Opposition peers urged the Government to
ensure that the read-outs of physical location produced by the new
mobile phones should be made available only after a warrant is
obtained from a judge. But the appeals were rebuffed. The police will
be able to track somebody's movements on the authority of a police
Caspar Bowden, who runs the Foundation for Information Policy Reseach,
the internet policy think-tank which brought these concerns to light,
last night expressed alarm over the move.
`Anyone using the new phones will be able to be tracked with pinpoint
accuracy at the click of a mouse, for very broad purposes,' he said.
`It's like putting an electronic tag on most of the population.'
John Wadham, of the civil liberties group Liberty, said: `This
technology is of great concern, and the legislation is simply not
keeping up with it. It is frightening what the police will be able to
do without having to go before a judge. Under the Act, the only
authority overseeing these capabilities will come from an Interception
Commissioner, who does not have to be notified pro-actively of their
use, or whether tracking data is passed between government departments
Currently, police can obtain information about where a call was made
from a specific mobile, if they can satisfy telephone operators there
is sufficient evidence for their suspicions. Under the RIP Act, the
authorities will be able to bypass the phone companies.
The mobile phone companies believe these new location facilities in
their products will be hugely popular because they will allow users to
find the nearest bank or Indian takeaway, and then get precise
directions to the restaurant. The companies also believe it will give
callers greater security knowing that the emergency services can track
them down in a crisis.
A spokeswoman for Vodafone said: `It is true that under this new Act
the police will not have to get our approval to access this
information any more. But we believe the new software in the phones
will bring many benefits to our customers and will be warmly
The National Criminal Intelligence Service denied that the new
technology would mean the age of mass surveillance in this country . A
spokeswoman said: `We will not speculate about how police will use
technology that does not yet exist. But we will still be governed by
Data Protection Act and believe the RIP bill has strengthened the
rights of individuals, not weakened it.
Senior Internet Developer and InfoSec Consultant, pres.co
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