UK cops allegedly attempting to remove spy gear records from the internet
Documents detailing the use of IMSI catchers by police forces have been either removed or redacted iStock

British police are reportedly attempting to remove and/or redact records, which detail their use of spy tech. The police forces refer to the records as "covert communications data capture" (CCDC), from the internet. UK police forces have, in the past, attempted to cloak their use of IMSI catchers, which were used to surreptitiously monitor civilians' phone records.

According to a report by Motherboard, one document, allegedly the minutes of a meeting between the Warwick and the West Mercia police, detailed discussions of upgrading CCDC equipment. The document reads, "Within the West Midlands region both West Midlands and Staffordshire Police have recently purchased and operated 4G compatible CCDC equipment."

However, upon requesting further clarification, Sarah-Jane Lynch, an engagement officer with the West Mercia Police and Crime Commissioner, steered to a redacted version of the minutes, available on the Commissioner's website. This version of the document had sections on CCDC redacted.

"Their insistence on secrecy is in stark contrast to shallow political promises around accountability. There is no question that these devices raise serious data protection issues for the thousands of innocent people who have their personal data collected by these mass surveillance systems," said Richard Tynan, a technologist from activist group Privacy International.

Another document, a PDF file, was the Metropolitan Police Service's (MPS) "Contracts valued over £2500 awarded between October to December (Q3) 2015-16." The document revealed that the MPS had paid over £1m for "CCDC" services to a company called CellXion.

CellXion sells surveillance products, including ISMI catchers, says the company brochure. According to Motherboard's report, a Freedom of Information Act request revealed that CellXion has also been granted an export license for some of its products.

The original link to the PDF file on the MPS website, where the expenditure document should ideally be placed, appeared to be unresponsive. The link to the file leads to a "Page Not Found" error.

An MPS information officer said that the document was "published on the MPS website in April but had to be removed from the website earlier this month. This was due to the document requiring a redaction for reasons impacting on operational capabilities. Once the redaction has been made the document will return to the website."

The spokesperson told IBTimes UK that prior to its removal, the document was available on the MPS website "in its entirety" adding that the redacted version of the document "will be returned in the upcoming days."

Tynan claimed that the UK police's stance on IMSI catchers "reveals their contempt for transparency."

With the Investigatory Powers Bill, or snooper's charter, as dubbed by critics, soon to be implemented as law, the surveillance capabilities of the British police and intelligence agencies may likely be expanded to massive and unprecedented limits. Tech experts have, however, cautioned that future governments could "badly misuse" the law to curb "political dissent."