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Tech by VICE

Don't Have Surveillance Gear? UK Cops Will Share

Documents obtained by Motherboard show the City of London Police shares its surveillance technology with a UK competition authority.

by Joseph Cox
Nov 4 2016, 5:45pm

London at night. Image: GoodFreePhotos.com

What do you do when your agency hasn't actually bought surveillance technology, but you still legally have the authority to use such tools? In the UK, other groups, such as police or security agencies, may just share their fancy tech.

A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the UK's Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) and The City of London Police, obtained by Motherboard, highlights these sorts of relationships, with those who receive surveillance technological support promising to keep specific tactics secret, and potentially keep them out of court.

"The CMA works in partnership with the City of London Police for the purpose of investigations where there is a need to use surveillance and/or property interference based operations," the CMA recently told Motherboard in a Freedom of Information response. The CMA is tasked with investigating company mergers that could restrict competition, and investigating potential breaches of UK and EU bans against anti-competitive agreements.

Property interference is governed under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA), and can include planting audio bugs in a vehicle. The CMA previously told Motherboard it already uses equipment interference powers, the UK government's term for hacking, and that they play a "critical role" in its investigations.

But, the CMA can't do technical surveillance alone, and relies on assistance from the City of London Police.

"The CoLP [City of London Police] recognises that it is currently impracticable for CMA officers, in many circumstances, to meet the same national high standards to conduct directed surveillance that a CoLP specialist team could offer," the MoU between the two agencies, and obtained by Motherboard via the Freedom of Information Act, reads.

The City of London Police also provide the CMA with any necessary support to process evidence generated from property interference based operations, the MoU adds.

In return, the CMA would make sure to not spill any of the City of London Police's secrets around surveillance technology.

"All necessary steps would therefore be taken to preserve the confidentiality of deployment techniques and anything otherwise sensitive," the MoU continues, adding that the CMA would consult with the Director of Intelligence at the City of London Police particularly concerning the disclosure of sensitive tactics in court. Any CMA officers who were involved in an intrusive surveillance operation with the City of London Police would strictly be informed on a 'need to know basis' the document adds.

The City of London Police did not respond to a request for comment on what specific technologies it provides to the CMA.