Scottish police have been hacking phones and harvesting data - reports

Detective Chief Inspector Brian Stuart. Picture: Callum Bennetts
Detective Chief Inspector Brian Stuart. Picture: Callum Bennetts
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Police in Scotland have been secretly hacking phones and harvesting data from members of the public, according to the Sunday Herald.

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The newspaper reported that new technology was used to override security systems and download all the information held on a mobile phone - without the owner’s knowledge.

A secretive pilot project is said to have seen 18 officers trained to use a device, known as a “kiosk”.

The Sunday Herald described the technology as similar in size to an iPad which can quickly access text messages, photos, geo-locations, encrypted conversations on apps, passwords, contacts, web browsing history and call records.

Police Scotland told the newspaper: “We have previously trialled the use of kiosks in the east of Scotland for low-level crime, defined as that which appears from the outset to be a case likely to be prosecuted at summary level.”

Detective Chief Inspector Brian Stuart added: “Given the explosion of mobile devices in recent years, law enforcement has to be innovative with technology and keep ahead of the curve to ensure the safety of its citizens.”

News about the trials came through Freedom of Information (FOI) requests by the publication.

The pilots, which took place in Edinburgh and Stirling, saw 375 phones and 262 Sim cards accessed during investigations into what Police Scotland called “low-level crime”.

The extracted data cannot be taken within a specific time frame, the newspaper reported, meaning police must access all photographs and messages rather than just those on a specific date.

Solicitor Millie Wood of campaign group Privacy International told the Sunday Herald police should be compelled to obtain a warrant before using kiosks in Scotland.

She added: “The use of the kiosk in the east of Scotland trial means they must have been using it in live investigations.

“It’s probable that there are a lot of people out there that were part of a trial they didn’t know about.

“We don’t know how many people, we don’t know how much data was extracted.

“Policing is by consent, which means there must be transparency and integrity.”

Deleted information can also be obtained using the technology, according to the newspaper.

The FOI response said extracted data was “retained at a local level”, but the Sunday Herald reported a Police Scotland spokesman said data had not been kept and “there will be no future trials”.

The newspaper said it understood Police Scotland believes it complied with data protection guidelines during the trial and only examined phones that were lawfully obtained.

A Police Scotland spokesman told the Sunday Herald: “All phones had to be lawfully seized for a policing purpose.

“This can include a device being obtained by use of a warrant or handed to police voluntarily during an investigation.”