After watching a recent TV show about undercover cop Mark Kennedy I began to wonder how the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) might use technology in surveillance. Here’s what I found with a few hours googling. I only include technologies acknowledged by the Police in credible sources. References at the end.
Intelligence Data Gathering
Forward Intelligence Teams (FITs) are uniformed Police units who use cameras, camcorders and audio recorders to openly record the public. They are often deployed at demonstrations and political meetings.
Covert Surveillance Units perform undercover intelligence gathering duties. They will sit ouside in a van intercepting wifi traffic. With a court order they will break into a house and plant a bug such as a keylogger.
Each of the 3 MPS Helicopters has a pilot and two observers (with a 4th seat for incident specialists such as firemen). Over half of their work is tracking people/vehicles. Their cameras can zoom to read a numberplate or look at a face. Infra red cameras are used at night and to find hidden people in daylight. The observers can relay real time information to a range of ground units (including small hand held receivers).
The MPS appear to have a fleet of fixed wing Cessna Aircraft operating from Farnborough, Hampshire. These planes are fitted with “surveillance equipment capable of intercepting mobile phone calls or eavesdropping on conversations“. The MPS kept this military grade fleet a secret for over a decade, using a private holding company with a PO box in Surbiton as a front.
Police Micro-Drones are battery powered and hover quietly. They appear like a silent spec in the distance at 50m and invisible at 100m high.
A drone can be fitted with video or stills cameras for daylight or night. It can relay live HD video to goggles worn by an operator up to 1,500m away at a height of 1,000m. It has automatic flight functions, such as “return home“, for ease of use.
The monthly cost of a drone buys approximately one hour of helicopter time. The Police have used drones to watch over rock festivals. The MPS say they will be deploying drones for the upcoming Olympics.
The Automatic Number Plate Recognition (APNR) is a nationwide CCTV system covering motorways, main roads, town centres, ports and petrol stations forecourts. Millions of road journeys are recorded every day. An image is taken of the numberplate and the vehicle/occupants. The Police are able to reconstruct any journey. The system can raise alerts whilst tracking “marked” vehicles.
The Datong Surveillance System can monitor and control all mobile phone activity in the local area (up to 10 sq km). It can intercept SMS messages, phone calls and phone data (such as identity codes and internet traffic). It can track phone users’ movements in real-time. It can shut off any individual phone or all phones in the vicinity.
The Datong system is the size of a suitcase. It can be operated remotely. It works by locating the nearest legimate phone tower and then simply intercepts all the phone traffic by emitting a stronger signal impersonating the real tower. The MPS first purchased this in 2008.
Police Intelligence Databases
The Police have a network of intelligence databases. Records are entered by Police Officers (including Specials) on information from a wide variety of sources (e.g. any of the above, newspaper article, informant, another database).
Records are kept on criminals, witnesses, victims and domestic extremists. The Police potentially consider anyone attending a protest or political meeting a domestic extremist.
Here is a list of the information the MPS say they may keep on an individual:
- Personal details such as name, address and biographical details
- Family, lifestyle and social circumstances
- Education and training details
- Employment details
- Financial details
- Goods or services provided
- Racial or ethnic origin
- Political opinions
- Religious or other beliefs of a similar nature
- Trade union membership
- Physical or mental health or condition
- Sexual life
- Offences (including alleged offences)
- Criminal proceedings, outcomes and sentences
- Physical identifiers including DNA, fingerprints and other genetic samples
- Sound and visual images
- Licenses or permits held
- Criminal Intelligence
- References to manual records or files
- Information relating to health and safety
- Complaint, incident, civil litigation and accident details
The PND (Police National Database) is an intelligence database shared by all Police forces in the UK. It contains an estimated 10-15 million people, a quarter of the UK, including 6m people who have never committed a crime. Data retrieval access is restricted to 22,000 trained officers.
Crimint+ is an intelligence database run by the MPS. The MPS consider intelligence a core activity. All MPS Officers are trained and regularly use Crimint+. On average 2,000 new records are entered each day.
More than 4.7 million people have their DNA stored on the National DNA Database (NDNAD). This includes an estimated 850,000 innocent people.
The CO11 Public Order Intelligence Unit and the ACPO supervised National Police Order Intelligence Unit both have their own intelligence databases.
The Police are proposing to data-warehouse intelligence gathered from social networking sites such as Facebook and YouTube. This seems to imply they will trawl the internet and store collected data on their own database(s).
The Police have access to many other databases. RIPA allows the Police access to anyone’s financial, internet, phone and postal histories without a warrant. Requests should be authorized by a Senior Officer, a duty often delegated to juniors and sometimes to a computer handshake. One large Police enquiry can create requests for the records of thousands of people.
Requests responses contain all the details about a communication but not the content. For example, a phone entry will contain the numbers, names, locations, timings of the call but not a recording. An email entry would contain all the information available (names, locations, ip addresses etc) except the body content. A postal record may include a photograph of the outside of the package.
On average 1,500 RIPA requests were made per day in 2010 (not all from the Police – other bodies, such as Local Authorities, can also make RIPA requests).
Some communication providers allow the Police direct computer connections to their databases. BT has done since 2002.
The MPS use the Integrated Information Platform (IIP) to search databases. It is nicknamed “Google for cops”. It will search Crimint+, CRIS crime reports, Custody reports, Protection records, Stop & Searches and Emergency Calls records. MPS Officers can search by names, places, events, etc in a Google like interface. Like Google it will produce alerts for any search terms. On average 30,000 searches are carried out and 80,000 reports are read per day.
The MPS have recently said they will adopt face recognition technology. However, they previously said the same thing back in 2003 regarding the London congestion charge cameras – “images will be cross referenced to intelligence and police databases of suspects“. Face recognition software was used by the Police to find suspects in the extensive footage of the English riots this summer.
This year the MPS purchased the Geotime Tracking System. Geotime presents data in 3D graphics showing inter connections between “entities”.
“Links between entities can represent communications, relationships, transactions, message logs, etc. and are visualized over time to reveal temporal patterns and behaviours.”
The press have described it as “Software to collate information gathered from social networking sites, satellite navigation equipment, mobile phones, financial transactions and IP network logs”.
Geotime can accept data in a variety of formats including live feeds. The MPS have declined to rule out Geotime’s use in investigating public order disturbances.
If the MPS were to deploy Geotime alongside Datong against a demonstration it would be an impressive tool. And if the MPS really are successfully data-warehousing all possible resources (and that is a very big if) the real time data analysis would be something of the future here today.
The MPS would quickly build an intimate picture of the crowd. Individuals are identified by mobile and/or face recognition software (ever been tagged on Facebook?). FIT, drone and helicopter cameras provide live tracking video of suspects. The police computer could potentially give some meaningful, if not comprehensive, responses to queries like:
From this crowd show me…
- who posted “occupylsx” on the internet before 08:00 yesterday
- who was in W12 last Monday and has spent over twenty quid at B&Q since
- who last said the word “abracadabra” in a phone call here. Play the call.
- groups who have loosely communicated often in the past month and have congregated here but have never spoken directly on the phone.
Datong Surveillance System