Mayor's Oral Report (Supplementary) [1]

Session date: 
June 17, 2015
Question By: 
Joanne McCartney
Labour Group
Asked Of: 
The Mayor


Joanne McCartney AM:  Good morning, Mr Mayor.  Thank you for your response in regard to my request about these fake mobile phone towers or ‘stingrays’, as they are known colloquially.  Sky News undertook an investigation and said that it found 20 in London that appeared to be intercepting Londoner’s phone calls before they reached the official mobile phone towers, which obviously gives great concerns for Londoner’s security of their personal information.  There are two main issues with this.

Firstly, I understand that they can be bought for about £1,000 and so they are relatively cheap.  I understand that criminals can use them to intercept personal data.  My first question is: what are the police doing about ensuring that criminals are not using this bit of equipment?

Secondly, of course, the police and security services may be using them for counterterrorism purposes.  Mr Mayor, you may not be aware that David Anderson QC, the Government’s Reviewer of CounterTerrorism Legislation, [Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation] brought out a report last week that cited that these surveillance instruments in particular - and I quote him here - “do not have a clear and explicit basis in legislation”.  There were concerns about the judicial or otherwise oversight of these.  I wondered whether you can just answer those two questions.

Supplementary To: 


Answer for Mayor's Oral Report (Supplementary) [1]

Answer for Mayor's Oral Report (Supplementary) [1]

Answered By: 
The Mayor

Boris Johnson MP (Mayor of London):  Thanks very much, Joanne, and you are quite right to take this up, frankly.  On the first point on what the police are doing, I do not know the extent to which the police have so far detected illicit use of these scanners.  You are right in what you say about the possibility of buying them on the market.  I cannot give you any information about that, but I would be happy to write to you and of course I will be taking it up with Sir Bernard [Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe QPM, Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis].

On the second point, it is absolutely correct.  To the best of my memory, in the old days when everybody used landlines, if the police or the security services wanted to intercept a phone conversation, they had to get an individual warrant from the Home Secretary for the wiretap.  What seems to be at least plausible from this account is that the police and the security services are able to listen in randomly, as it were, to all the conversations that may be taking place in a certain vicinity of this ‘stingray’ scanner.

If that is going on, it is clearly unacceptable.  That is Stasi-like  monitoring of people’s private conversations and transactions in a way that I do not think we would want to see in London.  I very much share your concerns about that and I would want to establish that it was not going on.  On the other hand, if they are validly in pursuit of known suspects, people who might mean us serious harm who are making use of mobile telephony or other means of communication to plan outrages against this city and this country, then clearly they are right to do what they do.  In either event, there needs to be proper judicial supervision or some proper accountability and control of what is going on.

Joanne McCartney AM:  Mr Mayor, therefore, as Mayor of London and as the Member of Parliament (MP) now for a London constituency, would you be able to write to the Home Office expressing that concern and the concern that has been expressed by the Independent Reviewer and saying that there needs to be some legal framework for the oversight of this apparatus?

Boris Johnson MP (Mayor of London):  Do you mean following David Anderson’s words?

Joanne McCartney AM:  Yes.

Boris Johnson MP (Mayor of London):  Yes.  What I will perhaps do, if I may, is wait until I get an answer back from Sir Christopher Rose, see exactly how he accounts for what is going on and see whether he is willing to share information.  Then, depending on his account of it, we will definitely take it up with the Home Secretary.

Joanne McCartney AM:  Mr Mayor, when you get that response, will you send it to the Chairs of the --

Boris Johnson MP (Mayor of London):  I will make sure to.  It will all be obtainable under the Freedom of Information Act (FOI) and transparent.  You will get it all.

Joanne McCartney AM:  Thank you.