U.K. Police Admit Seized Mobile Phones Wiped Remotely

A report suggests smartphones and tablets taken in as evidence are being remotely wiped.

cell phone remote wipe

By Steve McCaskill

Some smartphones and tablets seized as evidence by police are being remotely wiped, according to a report by the BBC.

Police in Cambridgeshire, Cleveland, Derbyshire, Nottingham and Durham all told the corporation that such incidents had happened in their jurisdiction, while police in Dorset said it had happened six times during one year.

Police remote wiping

Their colleagues in Derbyshire said a device seized as part of a case involving romantic fraud had been wiped, but added it had not impacted the investigation as they went on to secure a conviction. Cleveland police said a similar incident had happened on their watch, but they were unsure whether it had an effect on their investigations as they had no idea what was stored on the device.

Many smartphones come equipped with a remote-wipe feature so that personal information can be protected in the event of theft or loss, and it is a standard feature of many mobile device management (MDM) platforms.

Such actions can be carried out so long as a mobile device is connected to a cellular connection, so it has been suggested that police store smartphones and tablets in such a way that they cannot receive a signal.

The Mayor of London has been a vocal advocate of an industry-standard "killswitch" that would immediately deactivate a device if it is lost or stolen in a bid to deter thieves from snatching smartphones. A number of manufacturers have committed to implementing such a feature, but others fear it would leave users vulnerable to hackers with malicious intent.