Police Boss Demands Speedy Facebook Data Access

The UK’s most senior policewoman, Met Police Commissioner Cressida Dick, has called on social media firms to provide access to data much quicker.

The call came amid a debate provoked by the murder in Southampton of Lucy McHugh, aged 13. A suspect in the murder (Stephen Nicholson) has been jailed for 14 months after he refused to provide police with his Facebook password under the Investigatory Powers Act.

The issue raises questions about the need to protect an individual’s privacy, versus the ability to help law enforcement in a timely manner.

Within minutes

Cressida Dick said that she believes detectives should have access to material from social media companies “within minutes”.

Detectives investigating her murder reportedly say it is taking an “inordinate amount of time” to access evidence from Facebook.

Dick meanwhile says UK police forces had faced a “very protracted procedure” in such cases.

It is understood that British police have to ask the US Department of Justice to apply for the information (which can take weeks or months), on their behalf, as Facebook is based in the United States and is under no obligation to hand any information over to a foreign police force.

Facebook does apparently hand over information if there’s an immediate threat to life or the safety of a child.

Speaking on LBC, Cressida Dick did not comment on Lucy McHugh’s case specifically but agreed police forces should have access to material from social media companies “within minutes”.

“I absolutely think that in certain instances – and it sounds like this is one – law enforcement in the UK ought to have vital evidence which might bring someone to justice.

“There are complex and practical things for them, and legal things, which I do respect. It’s not as straightforward as it sounds, but I think that’s where we should be.”

A Facebook spokeswoman told the BBC that the firm is “working closely with law enforcement” and following “well-established legal mechanisms”.

Privacy debate

This issue has been raised before, as tech firms are typically wary when governments or law enforcement force them to hand over data stored in another country, because of privacy concerns.

In June last year the European Union (EU) said it would make a number of proposals to make it easier for the police and other law enforcement agencies to obtain cloud data from tech firms.

Law enforcement for their part has always said that obtaining this data is too slow and cumbersome, where data is needed quickly in response to highly fluid and fast paced investigations.

Quiz: What do you know about privacy?

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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