The head of European Union’s law enforcement agency has warned that arrival of 5G networks will result in the police being unable to track or carry out surveillance of suspects’ mobile devices.
At the moment, police forces can tap or track a suspect’s mobile phone, but Catherine De Bolle head of Europol has warned this ability will be lost with the arrival of 5G networks, and when 4G networks become obsolete.
The ability of law enforcement to track devices has always been an issue for privacy campaigners. In prior years US police were able to track people’s phones without a search warrant, but in 2017 this changed when a felony conviction in Washington DC was thrown out over police’s use of a mobile phone tracking device without court approval.
And whilst law enforcement and intelligence services do currently retain the ability to track mobile devices, the arrival of 5G is clearly causing some concern.
De Bolle in an interview with Reuters, appealed to EU leaders for greater powers to fight tech-savvy criminals.
#She warned that member states do not yet have the domestic regulations or technology to fill the policing gap that will open up when 4G networks become obsolete.
“It is one of the most important investigative tools that police officers and services have, so we need this in the future,” she told Reuters, citing the example of locating a child who has been kidnapped or has disappeared.
European police authorities are currently able to listen to and track wanted criminals using mobile communication devices on the 4G network, but “we cannot use them in the 5G network,” De Bolle reportedly said.
She lamented that law enforcement agencies were brought into talks on the 5G transition among tech companies and policymakers too late. This has result in officials now seeking ways to limit the damage when police cannot carry out their surveillance capabilities under 5G.
“The biggest risk is that we are not enough aware of the developments on a technological level and we have to be ahead on this. We have to understand what is going on and we have to try to provide answers to it,” De Bolle is quoted as saying.
“So we need to be at the table where they discuss about the technological development, where they discuss standardization.”
“The area we are working in and the technological evolution we are dealing with – the innovation used by criminals, the web-based criminality – it is huge,” said De Bolle.
She suggested that Europol should become the driver for modernising EU police forces by developing its own digital tools and technology. But it would need more financial and political support she reportedly said.
There have been a number of revelations about police tracking mobile users over the years.
On 2014 for example it was revealed that mobile phone users in the United Kingdom were being actively tracked by the police and other organisations. But also that mobile phones being taken into police custody were being remotely wiped.
In 2015 over 20 fake cell towers used to track mobile users were discovered in London over a three week period, but the Met Police refused to confirm or deny the revelation.
Like to keep things close to your chest? Try our privacy quiz!