Metropolitan Police trials GeoTime tracking software

Campaigners have expressed concerns over tracking software being tested by the Met that correlates disparate pieces of digital information to track the whereabouts of suspects

Privacy campaigners have expressed concern over tracking software being trialled by the Metropolitan Police that collates suspects' digital moves.

Metropolitan Police bike

The Met is trialling software called GeoTime that collates suspects' digital actions. Photo credit: Metropolitan Police

The GeoTime software collects and cross-references data from sat-navs, mobile devices, social-networking sites, financial transactions and IP network logs to create a 3D visualisation of correlations between actions, people and places. The system is partly intended for military use, and privacy campaigners say this makes GeoTime inappropriate for tracking civilians.

The Met Police confirmed to ZDNet UK on Thursday that it was trialling the system, but said it was not yet in operational use as they were still evaluating how it could be used to better understand patterns of data. A spokesman said no decision had been reached yet on whether or not the Met will adopt the technology.

So far, the Met has used GeoTime with dummy data examining police vehicle movements, crime patterns and telephone investigations, the spokesman added.

Oculus, the company that makes GeoTime, said the product has a number of applications across law enforcement, military and defence, and crisis-management scenarios. It has already been deployed across some law-enforcement units in the US.

Privacy concerns

However, privacy campaigners have spoken out on the potential introduction of the software in the UK.

"The police's decision to adopt technology designed for theatres of war in order to track members of the public is deeply concerning," Daniel Hamilton, director of the Big Brother Watch privacy blog, told ZDNet UK in a statement. "The ability to build up such a comprehensive record of any person's movements represents a significant threat to personal privacy."

The Met did not say exactly how the system may be used if the trial is deemed a success, but Hamilton suggested that, if it is implemented, it should be reserved for use in only the most serious cases and not as an everyday crime-fighting tool.

The police force did not reveal how much it had paid to use the software as this was deemed commercially sensitive information, but the GeoTime Starter package — which includes a single user licence for GeoTime, one year of updates and maintenance, a training course and two hours of telephone support — costs $3,975 (£2,444). Increasing this to a five-user licence and four hours of telephone support per year takes the price to $16,625.

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