UK Police forces have revealed mobile phones seized as evidence of crime are being remotely wiped whilst in police custody. Technology designed to remove sensitive data from lost or stolen handsets is instead being used for more illegal means. Handsets are being remotely wiped by accomplices to remove evidence sometimes whilst the phone is police hands. They also claim there is little they can do to stop it.
Spokespersons from forces in Cambridgeshire, Derbyshire, Nottingham, Durham and Dorset have all reported incidents. It is unsure the true figures as many devices are being wiped before they can be examined as possible evidence, however Dorset has reported 6 incidents that have stopped investigation of the evidence in the last year.
It is thought that these are only the reported times it has happened, as the Dorset spokesperson added, “We have cases where phones get seized, and they are not necessarily taken from an arrested person – but we don’t know the details of these cases as there is not a reason to keep records of this”.
Convictions have still been gained in a few cases with no thanks to this lapse in police attention. Derbyshire has reported one instance in what they report as “romance fraud,” however, “It did not impact upon the investigation, and we went on to secure a conviction,” she added.
When questioned by the BBC, the Cleveland police spokesperson reported one instance, but added when pressed if it affected the investigation, “We don’t know because we don’t know what was on the phone.”
This may or may not be wiping much needed evidence need for a conviction, however these incidents could have been easily prevented. Granted there is little police can do if the device has signal, but this can be stopped by simply removing the SIM card and ensuring the device does not secure a Wi-Fi signal.
There are also commonly used high tech ways to prevent signal without tampering with the phone. Most forensic police investigators seal the evidence in a radio-frequency shield bag, preventing any chance of the handset gaining signal, and carrying out all further evidence gathering in a radio shielded room.
If this is not possible, placing the phone in a microwave turned off should prevent any wiping until a shield bag can be obtained. Although technology companies are taking great steps to keep out prying eyes by offering data encryption, this remote wiping technology is not designed to hamper police investigation. These cases are more lapse policing than remote wiping being incorrectly implemented as some news reporters have questioned.