Sunday, 15 January 2012

Is Police Database Abuse Becoming Endemic?

On Twitter, I regularly share (from @copwatcher) news stories about policing in Britain that interest me. An item today on the Daily Mail website, about eight Essex police officers losing their jobs after illegally accessing confidential police databases, made me realise that lately I’ve been seeing similar stories appear again and again.

Looking back over my Twitter timeline, I have noticed that from November 2011, there have been six reports in only three months that involve abuse of personal data by serving officers. As well as today’s story, these include:

In addition, a news report in November on breaches of the Data Protection Act in Norfolk and Suffolk since 2008 identified 22 incidents within Norfolk Police, a number that involved the dismissal of police officers or community support officers.

Today’s report about Essex Police reveals that it took a whistle-blower, rather than strict rules and policies usually defended by police press officers, to highlight ‘routine abuses’ of IT systems. Although browsing back through my Twitter timeline involves a far from vigorous methodology, the number of stories from around the country does point to the possibility that this kind of routine police misuse of personal data may be far greater than reported, perhaps even commonplace.

If this is the case and if even a small proportion of these abuses of power are for financial gain (the Mail on Sunday alleges Essex officers had routinely attempted to access the private details of celebrities), then this would represent a significant level of police corruption and the kind of unhealthy relationships with the media that go way beyond the ‘drinking and flirting’ focused on by the recent report by Elizabeth Filkin. Perhaps the Levenson Inquiry, currently considering the culture, practices and ethics of the press, should consider asking for details of data protection breaches from all 43 constabularies, along with information on the number of incidents where there were suspicions that personal information was passed on to journalists?

The failure of the surveillance society to maintain control of the data it routinely hoovers up is one of the reasons why its defenders’ claim, that "if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear," has always been a myth. Data gathering is a huge operation, the depth and breadth of information held is unprecedented and it can be incredibly difficult to have personal data removed from police databases – and as two teenagers in Bishop Auckland found out in December, after helping a five-year-old girl asleep in the back of a stolen car, far easier to wrongly end up on one.

That’s what makes the prospect of endemic misuse of IT by police officers across the country so alarming.


17 January 2012: A civilian worker at Lancashire Police who was sacked for accessing personal data has told an employment tribunal that police officers and staff regularly checked files for their own benefit.

9 December 2011: the Leicestershire police inspector Tobias Day, who murdered his wife and daughter, had just been sacked for misusing his force's computer systems.


bob smith said...


Unlawful access to police data has been going on since the police were established and the introduction of IT means there is at last a proper audit trail. The dismissals and convictions you quote should be taken as a positive sign that somebody is guarding the guards.

It's not perfect and there will no doubt be those who get away with it as there is in all sectors. However, I feel much happier with the current situation than I did when records were held on a card index system and you had no idea who was looking at the record.

David Mery said...

For an older look at a few abuses specific to the NDNAD see DNA database unauthorised use and data loss, and incorrect storing of DNA samples.

Anonymous said...

Aren’t Kent Police supposed to be joining forces or working inconjunction with Essex Police, are people being stopped to gather information on them ?

This freedom of information request looks interesting and the article on the front page of refers to the Leveson inquiry.


Can you for the record state under what lawful authority Kent Police operates and if you follow without exception The Police Code of Conduct.

Kent Police Authority Oaths – The Police Code of Conduct

Were the three Kent Police Officers badge numbers 12692, 12078,10091 working according to the oaths they took as police constables on the evening of 6th February 2012 when they stopped a Freelander belonging to former Maidstone Borough Cllr Sheena:Williams (not a
public servant) outside Kent County Council County hall offices,
after her partner had delivered the independent newpaper the
UKColumn to Maidstone Borough Council offices.

( Having previously complained of alarm & distress at the hands of
plain clothed Kent Police Officers, who arrived unannounced at her home and failed to provide any identification, after she had cause to complain about Kent County Council children services)

What are the names and ranks of the 3 officers; initially a female
officer number12692 and male officer number 12078 and later in
attendance male officer number 10091

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