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Opportunities to protect human rights

The revisiting of the regulation of policing methods with regards to new surveillance technologies could have resulted, and could still result, in greater clarity and protections. For the past two years, Privacy International has been researching the global surveillance industry, focusing on technologies that are developed in countries like the UK, the US and Germany and sold to undemocratic countries in the Middle East and Africa. However, we have also become aware that many of these technologies are being used in the UK. It is difficult to see how existing legal regimes can be applied to the use of these technologies by the police and other public authorities. The tools now available allow the user to:

  • remotely access an individual's computer or mobile device using hacking techniques in order to covertly gain complete control of the system, including the ability to remotely switch on the computer/device's camera and microphone
  • identify all mobile phones, and subsequently their owners, in a given radius (up to several hundred metres) through the use of 'IMSI-catchers'
  • establish false mobile phone towers in order to intercept all communications in a given area, e.g. allowing the police to passively monitor all communications at a public event
  • infiltrate and monitor social networks

The JCHR would be perfectly suited to begin the discussion on this, and this legislative window opened by the Draft Communications Bill is ideal since it is re-evaluating the powers under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act.