The roll out of Police Scotland’s ‘cyber kiosks’ for investigating digital evidence of crime has been delayed to due concerns around the legal framework.
It has become clear with the publication of a report on their implementation by the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Sub-Committee on Policing, which has called for the police to place the deployment on hold.
It says the chief constable of Scotland has confirmed it will not go ahead until the issues around a legal framework and consent have been properly addressed.
The cyber kiosks are laptop sized machines that provide a digital triage service to police officers, allowing them to bypass encryption to quickly read personal data from digital devices such as mobile phones and laptops.
The Scottish Police Authority (SPA) has bought 41 of the devices and had planned to implement them over the autumn of last year.
But the plan has been derailed by the lack of legal clarity, which was highlighted in trials in Edinburgh and Stirling, during which police searched the mobile phones of suspects, witnesses and victims without carrying out the required governance and impact assessment.
Members of the public whose phones were seized and searched were not made aware of the use of the cyber kiosks or provided with the option of withholding consent, the report says.
Subsequently, the committee has now asked the Scottish Government consider its findings and provide more legal clarity around the use of the kiosks.
John Finnie MSP (pictured), convenor of the committee, said it supports Police Scotland’s aims in using the cyber kiosks, but that a proper assessment of the risks have not been carried out.
“It appears that, in relation to the introduction cyber kiosks, only the benefits were presented by Police Scotland to the SPA, with the known risks not provided,” he said. “The SPA, for its part, seems to have accepted the information provided with very little critical assessment.
“Even the most fundamental questions, such as the legal basis for using this technology, appear to have been totally overlooked.
“This sub-standard process has resulted in over half a million pounds worth of equipment sitting gathering dust.
“Clearly, this is not an acceptable situation. The sub-committee wants to work with the Scottish Government and the stakeholder groups belatedly assembled to consider the implications of introducing cyber kiosks to find a solution which provides the necessary safeguards for the use of this new technology.”
He added: “While the events related to the trials are in the past, the sub-committee remains concerned that this technology was used by frontline officers without any human rights, equality or community impact assessments, data protection or security assessments, and in the absence of any public information campaign.”
The report adds that similar legal concerns have been raised around the operation of Police Scotland’s digital forensic hubs, five of which have been located around the country to examine evidence from mobile devices.
Image under Open Scottish Parliament Licence V.2