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Traffic cops turn to smartphones

Balford Henry

Friday, June 21, 2013    

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MINISTER of National Security Peter Bunting said on Wednesday that some 550 smartphone handsets are now available to the traffic police across the island.

"Members of the force are now in a position to use a smartphone application to check the authenticity of drivers' licences and motor vehicle documents, by simply accessing the Blackberry (smartphone) Law Enforcement Database that has been installed on 550 handsets of traffic and operational personnel across the island," he told the House of Representatives in the sectoral debate.

Auto learnt yesterday that the technology has been available to the traffic police over the past two years, and its use has revved up since the traffic ticket amnesty last year.

"It is very handy and is used mainly by the traffic police to check on motor vehicle documentation, but it can also be used to identify persons as it can also produce photographs and other personal information," the source said.

The use of smartphones is welcome as an added device to assist local police in checking on motorists who breach the law by driving without proper documentation, and even motorists who may be wanted or involved in criminal activities using the vehicle. However, there are some issues generated by the introduction of smartphones and other similar technological devices, which are raising concerns in places like the United States and the United Kingdom.

Technology magazine Popular Mechanics notes that while smartphones are used mainly by traffic cops to check motor vehicle documentation, they can also produce personal information by quickly scanning the contents of a motorist's phone during routine traffic stops.

The magazine noted that traffic police in the state of Michigan in the USA are also equipped with an electronic device known as Cellebrite UFED, which can pull data off a variety of cellphones and smartphones, including Android devices, IPhones and IPads, which can obtain emails, Web bookmarks, Web history, SIM data, cookies, instant message, Bluetooth devices, GPS fixes, call logs, contacts and much more.

This has raised concerns by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) that a police traffic stop can be much more than a simple check on documentation, and could be an opportunity for an invasion of privacy.

There is no indication that the Jamaican police force has yet reached that level of sophistication in terms of acquired technology.

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