UK police has bought surveillance software to track online movements

By EDRi · May 18, 2011

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Deutsch: [Britische Polizei schafft Software zur Überwachung des Onlineverkehrs an |]

Civil liberties groups have shown great concern about the UK Metropolitan
police force’s possible use of Geotime surveillance software that can map
nearly every move in the digital world of “suspect” individuals.

The Geotime security programme, that has recently been purchased by Britain
Metropolitan Police, is used by the US military and is able to show an
individual’s movements and communications with other people on a
three-dimensional graphic. It can be used to put up information gathered
from social networking sites, satellite navigation equipment, mobile phones,
financial transactions and IP network logs, creating a 3D graphic of
correlations between actions, people and places.

The use of such a tool is seen as a threat to personal privacy.
Alex Hanff, the campaigns manager at Privacy International, showed concern
that by the aggregation of “millions and millions of pieces of microdata, a
very high-resolution picture of somebody” might be obtained. This could
also be used by the government and police “for the benefit of commercial
gain,” and therefore, asked the UK police to explain who would decide how
this software will be used in the future.

“This latest tool could also be used in a wholly invasive way and could fly
in the face of the role of the police to facilitate rather than impede the
activities of democratic protesters,” said Sarah McSherry, a partner at
Christian Khan Solicitors, representing several protesters in cases against
the Metropolitan police.

Daniel Hamilton, director of the Big Brother Watch privacy blog, stated for
ZDNet UK that “the ability to build up such a comprehensive record of any
person’s movements represents a significant threat to personal privacy.”

According to Geotime’s website, the programme displays data from various
sources, allowing the user to navigate the data with a timeline and animated
display and the links between entities “can represent communications,
relationships, transactions, message logs etc and are visualised over time
to reveal temporal patterns and behaviours.”

The representatives of The Metropolitan police stated it was “in the process
of evaluating the Geotime software to explore how it could possibly be used
to assist us in understanding patterns in data relating to both space and
time” and that it had not yet taken a final decision on whether the software
would be adopted permanently.

A spokesperson from the Ministry of Defence said the software was also under
investigation by the ministry.

This comes at a time when data retention has become a main issue of
discussion being increasingly challenged and criticised and as the UK
already exercises a high level of surveillance of individuals’ online

According to the Guardian, Catt, an 86-year-old man without any criminal
record, has recently been granted permission to sue a secretive police unit
for having kept, on a clandestine database, a detailed record of his
presence at more than 55 peace and human rights peaceful protests over a
four-year period.

The respective unit has been compiling a huge, nationwide database of
thousands of protesters for more than ten years already. The police claims
the unit only monitors so-called “domestic extremists” (which in Catt’s case
is a very exaggerated statement) and that the “minor” surveillance of Catt
was a “part of a far wider picture of information which it is necessary for
the police to continue to monitor in order to plan to maintain the peace,
minimise the risks of criminal offending and adequately to detect and
prosecute offenders”.

Police buy software to map suspects’ digital movements (11.05.2011)

Metropolitan Police trials GeoTime tracking software (12.05.2011)

Privacy storm after police buy software that maps suspects’ digital
movements (12.05.2011)

Protester to sue police over secret surveillance (3.05.2011)