Police using controversial snooping technology to ‘hack into thousands of innocent people’s mobile phones’
- IMSI catchers mimic phone masts and intercept data sent from handsets
- Used to spy on criminals but allow officers to see all data within range
- Police can use hardware to listen to calls, block signal, and send texts
Police snoopers are capturing phone data from tens of thousands of innocent people, allowing officers to listen to calls, block phone signal, and even send fake text messages, it has been claimed.
Controversial ISMI catchers are being used by the Metropolitan Police, the country’s largest force, to spy on suspects’ mobile phones, according to reports.
But the devices also ‘hoover up’ data from every other mobile within their range, meaning thousands of innocent people are being unintentionally targeted.
The Metropolitan Police, the country’s biggest force, use devices known as ISMI catchers to target criminals’ mobiles, but the probes also ‘hoover up’ all phone data from the surrounding area
The devices are regularly used by the Met in large scale investigations, and are thought to be used by the National Crime Agency, according to The Times.
For a mobile phone to work, it needs to transmit data between your handset and the nearest mobile phone mast, which will connect it to the rest of the network.
WHAT ARE ISMI CATCHERS?
- Trademark records show technology first used in the U.S. in 2001 where device is known as ‘Stingray’
- Unit originally comprised of large metal box which was usually installed in or on top of a vehicle – but newer models can be handheld or worn on the body
- They work by tricking phones into thinking they are a mobile network mast
- Devices then mount ‘man-in-the-middle’ attack, allowing officers to see all data passed between phones and a phone mast
- IMSI and IMEI numbers linked to phones allow officers to identify specific targets – but all other phone data from area is also ‘hoovered up’
- Police can listen to calls, block mobile signal, read messages and even send and receive fake texts from the handset
IMSI catchers work by jumping into this stream of data, allowing the device to monitor everything that is sent between mobiles and a specific phone mast.
Police will then be able to see a handset’s IMSI – or International Mobile Subscriber Identity – along with the International Mobile Equipment Identifier (IMEI), allowing them to identify the owner.
ISMI catchers then have the ability to monitor data sent to and from the handset, listen in to phone calls, block mobile signal, or send fake text message to or from the phone.
As the devices are relatively new, their use is not covered by a specific law, and instead falls under the Police Act 1997 which is usually used to allow police to install bugs in someone’s home.
The use of such devices can be approved by an officer of chief constable rank, without the need for a judge or government minister to approve.
Scotland Yard and the NCA have both refused to discuss when or why they use the devices, and what type of data they gather.
Police numbers show that officers used ‘property interference’ techniques 2,689 times in the last year, but this data will include conventional bug microphones and other such devices.
IMSI catchers allow officers to listen in to phone calls, block signal to a handset, read messages, and also send fake texts to and from the handset (posed by model)
Matthew Rice, advocacy officer for Privacy International, told The Times: ‘You cannot maintain this level of secrecy and claim that we still have policing by consent.
‘This technology is not capable of targeting an individual. The latest IMSI catchers can unmask entire groups involved in protests, intercept all their messages and block all their calls.’
A Scotland Yard spokesman told MailOnline that the force will neither confirm nor deny whether the equipment is used – or whether the force even has it.
At the time of publishing, the National Crime Agency was unavailable for comment.
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