Report finds police officers across UK regularly abuse positions of power to access personal data
Police staff have caused more than 2,000 breaches of personal data since 2011, a data campaign group revealed today.
Big Brother Watch’s report detailed 2,315 cases where police officers in the UK mishandled personal data of criminals and victims, leading to information being inappropriately shared with third parties more than 800 times.
Information was accessed without authorisation 869 times since June 2011, Big Brother Watch said, with 25 cases directly involving the misuse of the Police National Computer.
However, 55 percent of all the data breach cases resulted in no disciplinary action being taken, and just 13 percent of the cases resulted in either a resignation or a dismissal.
Big Brother Watch’s Report, titled ‘Safe in Police Hands?’ was published this week after the group collated data breach cases through Freedom of Information requests in a period from June 2011 to December 2015.
Big Brother Watch calculated that in Britain, police forces suffered an average of 10 data breaches every week, leading the campaign group to question whether initiatives like the Investigatory Powers Bill and Internet Connection Records will put citizen data at risk.
“The job of the police is to protect us and in a digital society that also means protecting our data. We need to be able to trust those in authority with our personal information, unfortunately that trust is being regularly undermined,” said the report.
“With the potential introduction of Internet Connection Records (ICRs) as outlined in the Investigatory Powers Bill, the police will be able to access data which will offer the deepest insight possible into the personal lives of all UK citizens. Breach of such detailed information would be over and above the extent outlined in this report.”
Notable incidents of data breaches include an Essex Police officer abusing his position to form relationships with a number of females. It is suspected that he carried out police checks on the women without a policing purpose. He is now suspended and under investigation.
In South Wales, an officer was dismissed without notice for photographing and disseminating restricted documents for personal gain. And in London, a Metropolitan Police officer was found sending photos of a victim’s driving license over Snapchat because he found the name funny.
In response to the findings, Big Brother Watch has proposed policy recommendations that would prevent such data breaches in the future. Some of the policies include the introduction of custodial sentences for serious data breaches, the mandatory reporting of a breach that concerns a member of the public, and the removal of Internet Connection Records from the Investigatory Powers Bill.
“These recommendations will address concerns we have with the increased levels of data the police will have access to, they also propose more stringent methods of dealing with data breaches including a move towards error reporting and notification for the individual whose data has been breached and they ask in light of the recent vote to Brexit that the forthcoming General Data Protection Regulations are adopted despite our separation from the European Union.”