Join us at Birmingham Open Media at 6.30pm on Wednesday 22 February for our first meetup of 2017. We’ll be looking at how polices in the West Midlands are covertly using devices- known as IMSI-catchers or Stingrays – to indiscriminately intercept and hack up to 500 phones every minute. We’ll be exploring what police use of IMSI-catchers means for our human rights and civil liberties and what we can do to challenge indiscriminate surveillance.
What’s an IMSI-catcher?
Last autumn, independent media co-operative The Bristol Cable revealed that West Midlands, Staffordshire, West Mercia, and Warwickshire police, along with other police forces throughout the UK, had bought devices – known as IMSI-catcher or stingrays – that allow them to spy on thousands of mobile phones at a time.
IMSI-catchers act as ‘fake’ mobile phone towers. When deployed, all phones in range of the device (anywhere up to an 8km radius!) will try to connect to it. This allows the catcher to intercept your communications and access a raft of personal information, including:
• Your phone’s IMSI number – a unique personal identifier
• Your location
• Calls and text messages
• Encryption keys used to secure your communications
Indiscriminate surveillance with little or no scrutiny
Because IMSI-catcher indiscriminately hoover up mobile update, their legality has been hotly contested. Silkie Carlo, Policy Officer at Liberty has said:
“It is inconceivable that using devices built to indiscriminately intercept and hack up to 500 phones every minute within an 8km radius can be lawful”
Campaigners have fought for many years to get authorities to even acknowledge the existence of IMSI-catcher, let alone accept democratic debate and legal scrutiny over their use.
There are concerns IMSI-catchers are being used to target peaceful protesters. Last year, a special investigation revealed IMSI-catchers were being used at anti-austerity protests.
How are IMSI-catchers used in Birmingham?
Commenting on the revelations in The Express and Star, West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner David Jamieson said: “We maintain close oversight of this important area of work.”
Yet as members of the public, there is no way to know if this is true, as West Midlands Police will neither confirm or deny they own or use IMSI-catchers because, according to them, doing so would so would compromise operations.
Our meetup is free but signing up via Meetup helps us make sure we have enough seats for everyone! Don’t worry if you’d rather not sign up, though. We respect your privacy.