09-Aug-2011 20:24

Could mobile phones help police investigations?

According to legal experts the Police may be able to use rioters' mobile phone information to help convict them…

Investigators can apply to see the contents of text and instant messages as well as their location.

However, authorities may not be able to access the full wealth of data available to telecoms companies because of legal restrictions.

Guidelines require police to find out individuals' identities first before obtaining records from trouble spots.

Research In Motion, RIM, makers of the BlackBerry smart-phone, has already said that it will be cooperating with investigations, and pointed out that it is bound to hand over subscriber information when it relates to criminal activity.

The company's BBM instant messenger has been identified as one of the services used by rioters to coordinate their actions.

Despite the restrictions, some legal experts believe there is scope to push RIPA guidelines further than they have been in the past.

One senior barrister, with extensive experience of this area, told the BBC that doing a "trawl" for mobile phones in a particular location where rioting was taking place might be considered proportionate in this case.

However, he conceded that it was unlikely police would make such a request.

Another possibility, according to solicitor Mike Conradi from DLA Piper, would be for BlackBerry to pro-actively offer a limited portion of their user data to police.

"They could say 'this person in in Brixton and he sent messages to 40 people and an hour later 25 of them turned up'," said Mr Conradi.

That basic information could be used to narrow down suspects worthy of further investigation, without violating either data protection or RIPA guidelines, he explained.

"There's a specific section in the data protection act which says you can disclose personal information for the purposes of detection of crime without the consent of the person to whom it relates."

The Met Police was unavailable for comment…

Are we surprised? :)

(source: BBC)

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