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Monday, January 03, 2011

A data rich society

I have written before about the habit of the Police of keeping on their databases details of people who have been charged with offences and then found not guilty. However, it seems that the forces of law and order have taken their obsession with the retention of data even further.

According to this morning's Western Mail millions of innocent people have had their details stored on police databases after reporting a crime.

The paper says that forces across England and Wales have amassed data about people who dial 999 or non-emergency numbers to report their concerns or pass on information:

West Midlands Police, the second largest force, holds 1.1 million records of people who have reported offences over the past 12 years. Others, including Lancashire, Cleveland, Avon and Somerset, Gloucestershire, West Mercia and North Wales, hold more than 150,000 each.

Senior officers admitted the information could be used against people as part of any future police investigation. They insisted gathering the data was necessary to fight crime, protect the vulnerable and ensure concerns were dealt with properly.

But critics said the vast databases were further evidence of a creeping database state in which information on the innocent was held alongside criminals and suspects.

Personally, I do not go as far as Gus Hosein, of Privacy International, who is quoted as saying: "There's a point where the police stop seeing members of the public as the people to be protected and rather see them all as potential criminals. Until now, this only happened in non-democratic states, but I fear that this line has been crossed in ours. This only goes to show how far the last government went in promoting this view that we are all criminals, and my understanding is that while this government has cut the NPIA, which is a first step, a culture change in the way we are governed and protected is the next one."

However, clearly there is a need for the Police to properly justify the holding of any data, no matter how innocuous, and their suggestion that 'most people would expect police to hold on to it' just does not cut it as a sufficient reason.

What is needed is transparency and accountability, in which there are proper policies in place for handling and accessing this data, for authorising it to be cross-referenced or not, for allowing people to inspect, challenge and delete any data held on them and for reviewing and removing data after suitable time periods, depending on its nature. There also has to be the facility for a fuss-free independent review of any case and of the whole policy framework. These policies and the safeguards surrounding them need to be widely publicised.

So far I have seen no evidence that any of this is in place. Until it is then none of us can easily believe that our details are being safely and properly stored or that such data is not being misused.

And after all if you know that by dialling 999 or cooperating with a police investigation, no matter how innocent you are, that you are going to end up on a database, then why bother? Where is the mutual trust that the police need to properly enforce law and order in this country? They cannot have it both ways.


All of this, in accumulation, is building a disturbing picture.
I am still waiting for the Police to agree to remove my details and DNA from their database, more than half a year after they agreed that I was innocent and released me without charge.

The DNA was taken *after* they had admitted that I was completely innocent, and it was made quite clear that I would *not* be released until I gave my DNA and that they would take it by force if I did not cooperate.

Even the crime I was accused of was bogus - masked Welsh Assembly Government contractors had given me photo ID cards to 'prove' that they had the right to come onto my land against my will to locate badger setts for later slaughter. When I insisted that they should remove their masks so I could match them to their photos (the only thing on the cards to tie them to the contractors) I was arrested on 'suspicion of theft' of the ID cards, despite the fact that I was clear that I would return the cards if they either showed me their faces or agreed to leave my land.

My complaint for wrongful arrest is also still awaiting a result. I darkly suspect they want to hold it up until after any vote in the Assembly on the new proposed badger cull.
Gavin>To hear this kind of stuff is so very disturbing. What happened to our country?
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