Privacy rights groups have called on Police Scotland to stall the roll-out of ‘cyber kiosks’ until the Scottish Government can implement a clear-cut framework for their use.
Earlier this week, Police Scotland announced the roll-out of the controversial technology, developed by an Israeli company, which enables police to override passwords and gather data from mobile phones or tablets.
41 cyber kiosks have been purchased and are set to be located at stations throughout the country, with their official deployment expected to commence in May this year.
Police Scotland said cyber kiosks will enable officers to swiftly access mobile devices and determine whether they contain information pertaining to an investigation. Additionally, the technology could help streamline investigative processes, thus saving time for officers and progressing lines of enquiry at a quicker pace.
Deputy chief constable Malcolm Graham said the roll-out is a necessary response to the increased involvement of digital devices in investigations, as well as the “ever-expanding capabilities of these devices”.
He said: “People of all ages now lead a significant part of their lives online, and this is reflected in how we investigate crime and the evidence we present to courts. Many online offences disproportionately affect the most vulnerable people in our society, such as children at risk of sexual abuse, and our priority is to protect those people.
“By quickly identifying devices which do and do not contain evidence, we can minimise the intrusion on people’s lives and provide a better service to the public.
Privacy rights advocates, however, have repeatedly voiced concerns over the deployment of cyber kiosks, claiming them to be too intrusive and questioning the legality of their use.
Following the announcement, Open Rights Group and Privacy International released a statement insisting the searches are “deeply intrusive” and that Scotland’s legal system is not equipped to deal with the deployment of cyber kiosks.
“Open Rights Group and Privacy International called on Police Scotland to prevent rolling out until the Scottish Government reformed the law to provide an overarching framework for the seizure of electronic devices in Scotland in line with human rights standards,” the statement reads.
“That recommendation has not been heeded by the Government and, as a result, we will shortly have intrusive technology available for use by Police in Scotland under laws that don’t meet fundamental standards of accessibility and foreseeability for the individual,” it adds.
A key concern for ORG and Privacy International is that victims or witnesses are being offered to consent to have their mobile device collected and searched despite having no right to retract consent for the retention and examination of data contained on the device.
“It is not fair for Police Scotland to present this as consent,” the rights groups claim. “This could be deeply confusing and harmful for those individuals to learn that handing over their device voluntarily does not mean they are empowered to have their device returned and the information held on that device not examined.”
Cyber kiosk trials have already been conducted at stations in Edinburgh and Stirling, much to the malign of privacy rights groups. These trials saw Police Scotland use the technology during investigations into what it described as “low-level crime”.