Police Taking ‘Excessive’ Data From Mobile Phones – Expert Insight

Police in England and Wales are taking “excessive” amounts of personal data from smartphones during investigations, the UK’s data watchdog has warned. Taking too much data may deter people from reporting crime or assisting the police, Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham said. Her report on police mobile phone data extraction (MPE) calls for a “statutory code of practice” for police. An investigation into MPE in Scotland and Northern Ireland continues. In some cases, police ask for data from a witness or victim’s smartphone, not just the suspects’ devices. The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) started its investigation following concerns police forces were inconsistent in how they collected data and many took “an overly wide approach to extracting data”.

Experts Comments

June 19, 2020
Paul Bischoff
Privacy Advocate
Comparitech
Police need a concrete policy in place that dictates how they can take data from people's smartphones. In many situations, witnesses and suspects might want to assist in a police investigation or report a crime, but would not be willing to hand over smartphone data to police. If they refuse, police have grounds to drop the investigation altogether, or worse, use the refusal as probable cause to implicate the smartphone owner in the crime. Ultimately, this leads to distrust of police and fewer.....Read More
Police need a concrete policy in place that dictates how they can take data from people's smartphones. In many situations, witnesses and suspects might want to assist in a police investigation or report a crime, but would not be willing to hand over smartphone data to police. If they refuse, police have grounds to drop the investigation altogether, or worse, use the refusal as probable cause to implicate the smartphone owner in the crime. Ultimately, this leads to distrust of police and fewer crimes getting the attention they deserve. People who are not charged with a crime should be allowed to give informed, opt-in consent to police searches of their phones. "Informed" would mean police tell subjects what information they are gathering, for what purpose, how long the data may be retained, and who it may be shared with.  Read Less
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