Prisons and Courts Bill allows mobile networks to deploy IMSI catchers outside of prisons

Pierluigi Paganini February 27, 2017

The new UK Prisons and Courts Bill will let mobile networks to deploy IMSI catchers outside of prisons to snoop on mobile phone users.

The Prisons and Courts Bill, introduced to Parliament last week, will let mobile networks to deploy IMSI catchers outside of prisons to snoop on mobile phone users.

The IMSI catchers are surveillance equipment used for intercepting mobile phone traffic, calls, tracking movements of mobile phone users block phones from operating.

An IMSI catcher runs a Man in the Middle (MITM) attack acting as a bogus mobile cell tower that sits between the target mobile phone and the service provider’s real towers.

The deployment of IMSI catchers aims to prevent, detect or investigate the use of mobile phones in prisons.

Imsi catchers

The measure is a novelty because in the past the use of IMSI catchers under the legal provisions in the Prisons (Interference with Wireless Telegraphy) Act 2012 was restricted within prison walls.

The decision represents a threat to the privacy of citizens, privacy advocates pointed out the IMSI catchers allow a dragnet surveillance.

The Clause 21 of the bill, along with its schedule 2, will amend the Prisons (Interference with Wireless Telegraphy) Act 2012 to allow the Justice Secretary to authorize “interference with wireless telegraphy”.

The Secretary of State may authorise a public communications provider to
interfere with wireless telegraphy.

An interference with wireless telegraphy authorised under subsection may be carried out only for the purpose

  • of preventing the use within a relevant institution in England and Wales of an item specified in subsection,
  • or detecting or investigating the use within a relevant institution in England and Wales of such an item.” reads the Clause 21.

The measure will allow detecting illegal use of mobile devices by prisoners illicitly communicating with people outside.

In October 2016, it was publicly disclosed the news that UK police has purchased police this mobile phone snooping technology to track suspects’ devices and intercept their communications as part of their investigations.

According to the Bristol Cable the UK police is using the Stingray equipment for its operations. The law enforcement has reportedly purchased “covert communications data capture” equipment (CCDC) from a UK firm, the Cellxion.

The Metropolitan Police has been operating IMSI catchers since a long time, it also used a surveillance aircraft equipped with the surveillance equipment.

“The Metropolitan Police in particular has been operating IMSI catchers, along with a covert air wing run through a front company registered to an anonymous mailbox in South London, since at least 2011.” states the ElReg. “The Met’s surveillance aircraft, a twin-engined Cessna Caravan F406 with the registration G-BVJT, is a familiar sight to Londoners. It is thought the aircraft’s surveillance fit includes IMSI catchers and live mobile phone tracking and eavesdropping capability.”

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Pierluigi Paganini

(Security Affairs – surveillance, IMSI catchers)

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