Brian Sims

Metropolitan Police Service loses nearly 2,300 electronic devices in two years

THE METROPOLITAN Police Service is facing calls for a formal investigation after admitting that it had seen 2,280 of its electronic devices being either lost or stolen over the past two years alone. Obtained by niche litigation practice Griffin Law under a Freedom of Information request, the data reveals the extent of the losses of police laptops, tablet computers and mobile phones over the complete calendar years of 2019 and 2020.

The news emerges following fairly extensive criticism of the Metropolitan Police Service from some quarters in the wake of the murder of Sarah Everard by police officer Wayne Couzens. It was subsequently revealed that Couzens had allegedly been part of a WhatsApp group with other officers wherein allegedly offensive and misogynistic messages may have been exchanged. The scandal has placed huge pressure on Metropolitan Police Service Commissioner Cressida Dick, who has been facing calls to resign from her role.

The obtained data reveals that a total of 2,280 devices were lost or stolen over the two most recent full calendar years, with 1,245 devices either lost or stolen in 2019 and 1,101 last year.

Tablet computers and iPads were the most commonly misplaced device, with a total of 1,620 going missing over the two-year period. 1,561 were reported as being lost, while 59 were registered as stolen.

Additionally, 392 mobile phones went missing over the period, with 214 reported lost in 2019 and 150 in 2020. In 2019, 15 mobiles were reported stolen and 13 in 2020.

The Metropolitan Police Service has also witnessed a high number of laptop losses with 268 going missing over the two-year period. Of this figure, there was a sharp rise in laptop thefts, with a total of 40 laptops reported stolen in 2020 compared to 25 in the prior year. That’s an increase of 60%. In 2019, 107 laptops were reported as being lost. The corresponding figure for 2020 is 96.

Catastrophic loss

Donal Blaney, founder of Griffin Law, informed Security Matters: “The Home Secretary and the Information Commissioner need to investigate this catastrophic loss of data as a matter of urgency. From my perspective, the attitude being displayed by the Metropolitan Police Service when it comes to electronic devices full of sensitive data relating to criminal investigations being lost should be the last straw. Who knows what was on these devices?”

Further, Blaney urged: “Who has these devices? Quite probably the very criminals under investigation by the police who now know who gave confidential information about them that led to their arrests? The Metropolitan Police Service needs to put its house in order immediately.”

Torsten George, cyber security evangelist at Absolute Software, noted: “Large organisations like the Metropolitan Police Service will inevitably experience some device losses, and particularly so where there are officers engaged in many complex operations in the fight against crime. However, such high volumes of lost or stolen items like police laptops and tablets are concerning and could well pose serious risks to victims and witnesses if the data falls into the wrong hands.”

George explained: “The reality of the situation is that, regardless of security procedures, misplaced endpoint devices represent a significant cyber threat to organisations as they might contain sensitive data that could result in a significant data leak or breach.”

According to George, the problem is made worse by the fact that the average volume of at-risk data on devices has risen by around 17% in the last year alone. “Nobody is saying organisations can prevent devices from going astray,” concluded George. “However, to mitigate their risk exposure, organisations need to deploy technology that allows them to scan endpoints for sensitive data, easily remove data remotely and then geolocate and lock lost or stolen devices.”

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