This article is more than 1 year old

Want a customer's call records Mr Plod? No probs

EE, Three and Vodafone automate delivery of comms data requests

Three of the UK’s four largest mobe networks run automated systems that make customers’ call records readily available to the cops without the need for any human intervention.

EE, Vodafone and Three pass on customer data ‘like a cash machine”, an employee at one phone company told The Guardian.

All operators must store customers’ call records for 12 months to abide by the law. Police and other agencies, under the Regulation of Investigatory Power Act (RIPA), can then access these without issuing a warrant - a point raised by El Reg last month.

According to the Graun's probe, documents from software providers and private chats with mobile networks’ employees indicated the “vast majority” of data demanded by the police was delivered by these automated systems.

Vodafone admitted the “overwhelming majority” of RIPA requests are “processed automatically in accordance with the strict framework set out by RIPA and underpinned by the code of practice…. even with a manual process, we cannot look behind the demand to determine whether it is properly authorised”.

A spokesman at Three, which the paper understands also runs a largely automated system, said it takes “legal obligations and customer privacy seriously”.

“Three works with governments and does no more or less than is required or allowed under the established legal framework,” he added.

The UK’s largest network provider EE said the “vast majority” of RIPA demands were “handled through the automated system”.

A spokesman said monthly reports are sent to law enforcement agencies making the requests and annual reports are sent to the interception commissioner and the Home Office.

A spokeswoman at O2 told the paper, “All O2 responses are validated by the disclosure team to ensure that each request is lawful and the data provided is commensurate with the request”.

Nick King, deputy director of Privacy International, said:

“If companies are providing communications data to law enforcement on automatic pilot, it’s as good as giving police direct access to [individual’s phone bills].”

He said it is “crucial” that each individual warrants for customers’ comms data is “independently reviewed” by the operators that receive them, and “challenged where appropriate” so a person’s privacy is not “inappropriately invaded”.

The Home Office did not reply to questions concerning the use of automated systems to retrieve calls, but defended RIPA, saying it is a “critical tool” employed by the police and other agencies to “investigate crime”. ®

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