Inside the police unit controlling access to our data

At a police building in south London, which I’ve been asked not to identify, I’m led through security gates, into the lift, up several floors and along a corridor to Scotland Yard’s Communications Intelligence Unit.

A sign on the door says No Unauthorised Access, but police have invited me in because they want to set the record straight.

What they do here is not about snooping on our calls and emails, they say – it’s about saving lives.

The room, which looks like a call centre, is split into three sections, each with clusters of desks and computer terminals.

One part is devoted to urgent requests for communications data and is staffed 24 hours a day.

A whiteboard lists the priority cases, known as Grade Ones, where there is an immediate threat to someone’s life.

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