GADGETS allowing the police to hack into people’s phones and search for evidence will be rolled out from the start of next week, the force has confirmed.

Police Scotland said it will begin introducing “cyber kiosk” technology from January 20.

Cyber kiosks are said to allow officers to “bypass passwords [and] overcome locks and encryption security to access the data held on a mobile device” if a phone is plugged into them.

The force hopes their use will help speed up investigations into crimes involving technology, such as child abuse.

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Deputy Chief Constable Malcolm Graham said officers are “committed to providing the best possible service to victims and witnesses of crime”.

He said: “This means we must keep pace with society. People of all ages now lead a significant part of their lives online and this is reflected in how we investigate crime and the evidence we present to courts.

“Many online offences disproportionately affect the most vulnerable people in our society, such as children at risk of sexual abuse, and our priority is to protect those people.

“Increases in the involvement of digital devices in investigations and the ever-expanding capabilities of these devices mean that demand on digital forensic examinations is higher than ever.

“Current limitations, however, mean the devices of victims, witnesses and suspects can be taken for months at a time, even if it later transpires that there is no worthwhile evidence on them.

“By quickly identifying devices which do and do not contain evidence, we can minimise the intrusion on people’s lives and provide a better service to the public.”

Police Scotland spent £370,684, excluding VAT, on 41 cyber kiosks – also known as digital device triage systems – in 2018, with the intention of deploying them in the autumn of that year.

But their introduction was delayed amid concerns 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.

Cyber kiosks are desktops that let officers instantly ‘hack’ into smartphones which are plugged into them without having to send the phones off to a lab for months of specialist analysis. Not all phones can be accessed by the kiosks.

Many victims and witnesses already agree to hand over their phones to police, while devices can be seized from suspects under a warrant.

The kiosks will be rolled out in the Forth Valley and Fife divisions initially, with all 41 to be introduced across Scotland by May.

Papers show 410 frontline officers have been trained to use the technology.

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The force said the Crown Office and independent senior counsel had affirmed the existence of a legal basis for the use of cyber kiosks.

It said officers will only examine a digital device where there is a legal basis and where it is necessary, justified and proportionate to the incident or crime under investigation.

Cyber kiosks used by Police Scotland will not be able to store data from digital devices, it said.

Once an examination is complete, all device data is securely deleted from the gadgets.

Last year, Deputy Chief Constable Will Kerr told MSPs there had been a “shocking” rise in crimes involving technology, including those targeting children. He said said there was a worry organised crime gangs “have got access to this technology, sometimes ahead of policing".

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.”