Police forces should be required to obtain a search warrant before downloading the contents of a suspect, victim or witness’s mobile phone, campaigners have said.
Privacy International has found that at least half of British police forces are now using mobile phone extraction technology.
The system allows officers to download the entire contents of a suspect, victim or witness’s phone without their knowledge.
But despite the widespread adoption of the technology, the government is yet to publish any policies or guidance on how it should be used.
As such, Privacy International is now calling for an urgent independent review of the practice and the requirement for police to apply for a warrant to use it.
Millie Graham Wood, the organisation’s in-house solicitor, said the technology would deliver more information than a raid on a suspect’s home.
“The police can take data from your phone without your consent, without your knowledge and without a warrant,” she warned. “It is disturbing that the police have such a highly draconian power, operating in secret, without any accountability.”
Graham Wood also warned that the technology may be disproportionately and unfairly impact minority ethnic groups, political demonstration and environmental activists, adding:
“An immediate independent review into this practice should be initiated by the Home Office and College of Policing, with widespread consultation with the public, to find the right balance of powers for the police and protections for the public.”
David Lammy, MP for Tottenham, welcomed the research: “The lack of transparency around new policing tools such as mobile phone extraction is a serious cause for concern. There are no records, no statistics, no safeguards, no oversight and no clear statement of the rights that citizens have if their mobile phone is confiscated and searched by the police.”