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UK police make a request for personal metadata every two minutes

02.06.2015  |  10:36
UK police make a request for personal metadata every two minutes

A new report from Big Brother Watch shows how just often police in the United Kingdom request access to the personal metadata of someone in their district. The answer is, a lot.

A new report from Big Brother Watch shows how just often police in the United Kingdom request access to the personal metadata of someone in their district. The answer is, a lot.

The report, which is based on responses to several Freedom of Information Act requests, claims that 733,237 requests were made between 2012 and 2014. That means roughly every two minutes, a request was made for data pertaining to “the who, where and when” of a text, email, phone call or web search.” And this is likely an underestimate — one police district didn’t even bother to respond to Big Brother Watch’s inquiry.

Big Brother Watch claims that around 93 percent of the request were approved. And the requests aren’t slowing down in most of the UK: the number of data requests peaked in 2014 with 250,000 requests in total, and most of the police districts requested data more frequently as the years passed.

The Guardian notes that the release of this report comes after the so-called “Snooper’s Charter” was re-introduced during the Queen’s Speech in May. Big Brother Watch is effectively sharing how much data police already gather to illustrate how troublesome it would be if their surveillance powers expanded.

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UK police make a request for personal metadata every two minutes. 580.jpegPerhaps the most troubling thing for Americans is that most of us don’t know how often our police departments collect our data. Most departments can’t tell us how often they gather information even if they want to, thanks to non-disclosure agreements signed in exchange for access to surveillance tools:

A non-disclosure agreement that police departments around the country have been signing for years with the maker of a cell-phone spy tool explicitly prohibits the law enforcement agencies from telling anyone, including other government bodies, about their use of the secretive equipment, according to one of the agreements obtained by an Arizona journalist.

Police in the UK, on the other hand, are gathering information with the knowledge that those figures might (and now have) become public. And considering the frequency of these requests, How often might police officers in the United States have collected similar information when they know they’ll never have to fess up to it?




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