Police Scotland hope to roll-out their controversial ‘cyber kiosks’ by as early as this summer after their use was found to be lawful.
Assistant Chief Constable Steve Johnson told the Scottish Police Authority on Tuesday that the force was now “entirely satisfied” that there was a legal basis for the ‘digital device triage systems’.
The force had hoped to start using the new technology in autumn 2018 but plans were halted after concerns were raised by MSPs and various human rights groups.
There were fears that the devices breached an individual’s right to privacy but also about the type of data that could be accessed.
Police Scotland were forced to seek clarification on the legality of using the 41 kiosks which they had already purchased at a cost of almost £500,000.
A justice sub-committee on policing at the Scottish Parliament also asked that equality, human rights and data protection impact assessments should be carried out.
In a report submitted to the SPA by ACC Johnson, he stated that the force had sought independent legal advice from a senior lawyer and the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service.
He said: “Police Scotland is entirely satisfied that the use of cyber kiosks is lawful and that we have developed robust policy, practise and procedure which underpins the values of the service and how we seek to interact with and protect the citizens of Scotland.
“Now that we have unambiguous clarity from both COPFS and independent senior counsel on the legal basis for their use, and subject to ongoing discussions with the SPA, our intention is to start the operational roll-out of cyber kiosks as soon as practically possible.”
He accepted that lessons had been learned by the force who were criticised for carrying out two trials of the devices without informing the people whose phones were examined in 2016.
But at an SPA meeting yesterday (Wed), he said he was confident that the kiosks could be used by the “summertime” providing the final stages of talks are successful.
An independent legal opinion by Murdo Macleod QC was submitted to the SPA and disclosed details about how the kiosks work and the type of data that could be examined.
He explained that mobile phones and tablets belonging to suspects would only be examined once authorisation had been given by a senior ranking officer.
The supervisor, who will have to be a sergeant or above, will have to be satisfied that devices belonging to suspects had been seized lawfully and “speculative enquiries” should be rejected.
He noted that the search with the triage systems would be restricted with certain parameters, such as timescales or keywords and names, to reduce the level of privacy intrusion.
The kiosks will also be configured to only search stored data on devices which are not connected to the internet and which will have had their sim-cards removed.
The advocate was of the view that the cyber kiosks were “necessary” and “proportionate” to allow Police Scotland to prevent, investigate and detect crime.
Devices belonging to victims and witnesses of crime would only be examined when informed consent had been given.
Mobile phones or tablets which are found to have data of interest will be sent to one of Police Scotland’s already established Cyber Hubs for further examination.
This would allow devices which do not contain any relevant data to be returned to their owner much more quickly and will help reduce the workload of the forensic police units.
He concluded: “In my opinion the use of cyber kiosks in the manner envisaged by Police Scotland is lawful.”
Representatives from Police Scotland will return to Holyrood on Thursday May 9 to update the justice sub-committee on their progress
Deputy Chief Constable Will Kerr said: “Cyber kiosks are critically needed to help protect people from criminality, including organised gangs and online sexual abuse.
“Current limitations mean the devices of victims, witnesses and suspects can be taken for months at a time, even if it later transpires that there is no worthwhile evidence on the device.
“Cyber kiosks use the same processes already in place to examine thousands of devices Police Scotland seize each year, to provide evidence which is subject to legal scrutiny and presented in court to secure convictions.
“The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service and independent senior counsel have confirmed the clear legal basis for their use.
“Police Scotland has reported to the Scottish Police Authority on our plans to roll out this much needed technology.”