Police Software May Track Innocent, Say Privacy Groups

The Metropolitan Police’s purchase of GeoTime tracking software will be misused, warn privacy groups

Civil liberties groups have complained that new software used by the Metropolitan Police to track individuals online, could invade the privacy of innocent people.

The Metropolitan Police is using GeoTime, data harvesting software from Oculus Info, that gathers information from social media sites, GPS, IP addresses and mobile phone data, presenting the results in 3D visual form. The software is used by the US military and police forces, and Geotime claims it can reveal previously unknown connections between individuals.

High-resolution surveillance

Privacy campaigners object to the granularity of the data collected. “Once millions and millions of pieces of microdata are aggregated, you end up with this very high-resolution picture of somebody, and this is effectively what they are doing here,” Alex Hanff, campaigns manager at Privacy International, told the Guardian.  “We shouldn’t be tracked and traced and have pictures built by our own government and police for the benefit of commercial gain.”

Privacy specialist Hugh Tomlinson QC and Sarah McSherry, a lawyer at Christian Khan Solicitors who has represented people bringing cases against the Met, both warned against misuse of the new software in the Guardian.

The Metropolitan Police has refused to rule out the use of GeoTime to track demonstrators at protests.

British police have recently arrested suspects over denial of service attacks associated with the Anonymous hacktivist group, which police have been monitoring since before the WikiLeaks incidents.

Online  British police work has also had its lighter moments, as when the police failed to persuade Google to reveal the licence plate of a possible caravan-thief caught on Street View, or apprehended a vandal who bragged on Facebook.

Last week, 86-year-old John Catt, a pensioner from Brighton with no criminal record was granted leave to sue the police over a private database containing detailed records of his presence at 55 peace and human rights protests during four years, including hearsay and personal remarks.

Police chiefs have justified the surveillance of Catt because of his presence at a protest against a Brighton arms factory run by US firm EDO. Catt’s “voluntary association at the Smash EDO protests forms 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 offender,” the Guardian reported.