POLICE are aiming to roll-out controversial machines that allow them to hack into people’s phones “towards the end of summer”.

Officers told MSPs they now had “legal clarity” over the gadgets, which have sparked widespread concerns around privacy and data protection.

It came as Police Scotland revealed it is planning to set up an “ethics panel” to help thrash out potential problems with any future technology.

Speaking to Holyrood’s Justice Sub-Committee on Policing, Deputy Chief Constable Will Kerr referenced the “shocking” rise in crimes involving technology, including those targeting children.

He said: “We want to get on with using these devices now, but we would certainly welcome any additional clarity around how we police in a digital age and where that balance sits between privacy, responsibility, security, safety.”

MSPs previously said the roll-out of the devices should be halted until legal doubts surrounding their use are cleared up.

But Mr Kerr insisted: “We have the legal clarity now, both from the Crown Office, under whose direction we act, and from independent senior counsel.”

He added: “We think the process will be better as a result of the engagement and scrutiny of this committee, and we would like to apply those lessons to the increasing use of technology in policing over the course of the next number of years.

“This is not something that’s going to stop. This will not be the last time we use a new or innovative bit of technology.”

He told MSPs police had “fixed internally too quickly on the technology that was involved, and didn’t spend enough time considering how the use of that technology would be perceived or felt by the very citizens that we were looking to protect”.

He added: “It’s not just about protecting citizens from harm, it’s about how it feels to the rest of the citizens, about the use of what can be quite intrusive, quite invasive powers.

“So I think that balanced perspective is something we’ve matured with over the course of the last number of years.”

Police Scotland spent almost £500,000 on 41 digital device triage systems – known colloquially as cyber kiosks – last year, with the intention of deploying them in the autumn.

There was also an initial £101,000 revenue cost and a further £379,960 is anticipated for licence renewals over a four-year period.

The machines are said to allow officers to “bypass passwords, overcome locks and encryption security to access the data held on a mobile device”.

However, their introduction was repeatedly stalled after concerns were raised over their legal basis, and whether human rights and data protection assessments were in place.

The force was also criticised for carrying out two trials in 2016 without informing the victims, suspects and witnesses whose phones were being examined.

Earlier this year, Chief Constable Iain Livingstone confirmed they would not be rolled out until the issues had been addressed.

Police currently have a backlog of around 2,000 mobile phones which are yet to be investigated.

Speaking to MSPs, Mr Kerr said there was a worry organised crime gangs “have got access to this technology, sometimes ahead of policing,” as the gadgets are freely available to buy online.

Assistant Chief Constable Steve Johnson, of the specialist crime and intelligence division, added: “Some of our organised crime groups are actually in the tech business.

“This will present as legitimate companies. They are in the tech business and some of them, the services that they provide, along with drugs supply, firearms, abuse, trafficking, are technical services.

“They are developing, if you like, their business model to the advantage of criminals, at a pace that we’ve never seen.”

He said it was the force’s intention to set up an ethics panel which will “sit as a regular feature”.

This will aim to ensure issues with any future developments are talked through to help police “define, if you like, what our system and user requirements will be”.