British police surveillance system can turn off mobile phones

By Stephen C. Webster
Tuesday, November 1, 2011 10:36 EDT
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A stencil by graffiti artist Banksy. Flickr commons.
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Police in London possess a surveillance technology that sounds like something straight out of science fiction: a mobile GSM device that pretends to be a cellular tower, tricking nearby phones into connecting to it, then intercepting all their communications.

The system was developed by the British firm Datong plc, according to The Guardian, which noted that the U.S. Secret Service and a number of Middle Eastern regimes also patronize the company.

The signal this device projects covers an area for 10 miles around, and the variety of data it can produce is specific enough to track the exact location of any mobile device on the network. It can even be used to shut off all mobile devices in its range.

The full range of its capabilities are classified, The Guardian added, and Datong plc did not comment on the initial report. The Metropolitan Police refused to say when or where the device has been used, if at all.

Documents seen by the British paper show the police paid £143,455 for the device in 2008-2009. The same firm has won over $1.6 million in U.S. contracts between 2004 and 2009, The Guardian said.

It’s not clear whether the technology was used during the riots that gripped London and other British cities earlier this year after police killed a young man who they claimed was involved in a drug deal.

During the unrest, British authorities threatened to cut off Blackberry messaging service, in a scene that evoked similar actions taken against protesters this year by authorities in Egypt and Oakland, California.

Photo: Flickr user nolifebeforecoffee.

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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