Three out of four of UK’s mobile phone networks have provided automatic access to police forces. This means police can essentially get customer data like phone call records with a simple mouse click.
According to the Guardian, three out of the four major national telecommunications companies are currently participating sharing data through automated systems with no oversight, being; EE, Vodafone, and Three. Many have reacted negatively to the news as this is a form of a breach to the customers. Allowing automatic access to data to law enforcement no matter that customer. Whether or not there’s suspicion of crime, the data is accessible. Provider O2 has implemented a system in which they screen the requests before providing any data, with is a lesser evil at most, but still requires more public transparency.
This is all legally done through RIPA (Regulations of Investigatory Powers Act 2000). In detail, phone carriers have to store up to a year of call records of all their customers, and provide them to police forces, or other government agencies at their will. No warrant needed. Essentially a mass surveillance list of customers personal call records. The worst part of this is it’s all done automatically. In many cases, the carrier’s staff members aren’t even needed, and the law enforcement can simply just take the data. This can prove many risks in the future from abuse of the power or simply just breaching something customers may have not agreed to.
Despite the UK government assuring that data will not be compiled, it’s hard to say what’s being done behind closed doors. It’s simply just up for grabs. Many are in opposition of this RIPA bill, with some customers even switching to carriers which don’t abide by the act.
Above all, this is a privacy and security issue. Whether you’re a user under suspicion of any illegal activity or not, your records are readily available, whether you agree or not. You’re left little option other than cancelling your line and cease using the network, or switching to a carrier who doesn’t automatically distribute your data. The UK has reported that with over 500,000+ RIPA requests by police and law enforcement in 2013 alone, that the automated system was much preferred. As it reduces man power or staffing needed to process each request, or any questioning or oversight, of course!
Now currently this is only outgoing/incoming phone call records no other personal information other than who you’re calling. However that in itself can be a big breach for some users. It does in bigger sense create this oversight effect of being watched. This is an opt-in for all users under contract with the above carriers, and while only few may actually leave them, it’s something worth talking about. Our privacy and rights are important as customers. While this does help in aiding in some police investigations, and criminal cases at the expense of a fully open system for anyone to track whoever they please. Wherever you may stand on the subject you can’t help but be aware of the presence of your records being compiled.