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Police Scotland to Start Using Controversial Hacking Devices

Dominique Adams


Police Scotland

Police Scotland has announced it’s planning to deploy hacking tech towards the end of summer saying it now has ‘legal clarity’ over its use. 

Speaking to MSPs, representatives of Police Scotland said that they now had legal clarity from both the Crown Office and from independent senior counsel and would start rolling out the devices, known as cyber kiosks, towards the end of summer.

At the same time, Police Scotland also revealed that it’s planning to establish an “ethics panel” to help resolve problems with the future deployment of technology.

Addressing Holyrood’s Sub-Committee on Policing, Deputy Chief Constable Will Kerr said: “We want to get on with using these devices now, but we would certainly welcome any additional clarity around how we police in a digital age and where that balance sits between privacy, responsibility, security, safety.”

Previously, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) and the Scottish Human Rights Commission have voiced concern over the use of this technology, which has been labelled by privacy groups as invasive.

The original roll-out of the devices was halted when MSPs said it should be delayed until legal doubts and ambiguity about the use of the devices had been resolved.


Kerr asserted that: “We have the legal clarity now, both from the Crown Office, under whose direction we act, and from independent senior counsel. We think the process will be better as a result of the engagement and scrutiny of this committee, and we would like to apply those lessons to the increasing use of technology in policing over the course of the next number of years.”

“This is not something that’s going to stop. This will not be the last time we use a new or innovative bit of technology,” he added.

According to Kerr, police had “fixed internally too quickly on the technology that was involved, and didn’t spend enough time considering how the use of that technology would be perceived or felt by the very citizens that we were looking to protect.

“It’s not just about protecting citizens from harm, it’s about how it feels to the rest of the citizens, about the use of what can be quite intrusive, quite invasive powers.

“So I think that balanced perspective is something we’ve matured with over the course of the last number of years.”

Last year, Police Scotland acquired 41 of the device systems at a cost of nearly £500,000 and planned to start using them in Autumn. In addition, there was also an initial £101,000 revenue costs and a further £379,960 is anticipated for licence renewals over a four-year period.

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In 2016, Police Scotland faced serious backlash after it carried out two trials of the technology without informing the victims, suspects and witnesses of its use. Kerr expressed his worry to MSPs that organised crime gangs had already got access to the tech “as the gadgets are freely available to buy online”.

Assistant Chief Constable Steve Johnson, of the specialist crime and intelligence division, added: “Some of our organised crime groups are actually in the tech business. This will present as legitimate companies. They are in the tech business and some of them, the services that they provide, along with drugs supply, firearms, abuse, trafficking, are technical services. They are developing, if you like, their business model to the advantage of criminals, at a pace that we’ve never seen.”

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Dominique Adams

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