UK media is reporting on the presence of fake mobile towers used to eavesdrop on phone calls in the nation, but police are refusing to confirm or deny they are using the devices.
Sky News has conducted an investigation, uncovering evidence that international mobile subscriber identity (IMSI) catchers are being used in the UK.
IMSI catchers, also known as Stingrays, are used by police agencies in some countries to listen in on the communications of criminals. But the devices also collect data of all other people in the area, making them privacy minefields.
Spokespeople for the UK's Metropolitan Police declined to confirm or deny that they are using IMSI catchers, stating that criminals would be the only people to benefit from that information.
The director general of the National Crime Agency also stated that to fight crime authorities sometimes need to take “intrusive” action, and keeping the public informed would defeat the purpose of some crime-fighting activity.
But Sky News notes that the refusal to comment on the devices means the legal framework governing their use is unclear, and there is no indication that any surveillance is being conducted with the proper oversight.
It also raises the possibility that the IMSI catchers detected in the investigation are being operated by cybercriminals, foreign governments or enterprises for fraud or illegal espionage.