Police forces across country have been quietly rolling out technology which allows them to download the entire contents of victim’s phone without a warrant.
At least 26 forces now use technology which allows them to to extract location data, conversations on encrypted apps, call logs, emails, text messages, photographs, passwords and internet searches among other information.
The searches can be done instantly at a local police station and are used by many forces for low level crime – regardless of whether or not someone is charged – and can be used on victims and witnesses as well as suspects.
The Metropolitan Police, which was the first force to introduce the extraction devices during the London 2012 Olympics, has admitted that when a single photograph is required from a victim’s phone every one is downloaded.
The revelations have led to concern that it could prevent victims coming forward, particularly in domestic abuse or rape cases.
Naz Shah MP, who sits on the Home Affairs Select Committee, said: “We have a situation where people who do not even know their data has been downloaded.
“If police want to search someones house then they have to get an arrest warrant , but there is less information in a house than on the phone, which contains crucial information about conversations.”
She has called on the Government to investigate the use as a matter of urgency, adding: “We currently have no legal framework or scrutiny, which leaves people open to abuse”.
Privacy campaigners are calling for a change in the law to force the police to obtain a warrant before they using extraction technology.
There are no clear rules on how long the data can be held, but a procurement document from the Met from 2015 says that it could require “maintenance for an indefinite period extending for many years”.