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Confused coppers struggle with DPA

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Police officers are still deleting important records because they fear prosecution under the Data Protection Act, according to the Police Federation.

The organisation, which represents rank and file officers, called for clarification of the way the Act should be implemented, in a submission to the Birchard Inquiry into police handling of data, set up following the Soham murders.

Ian Huntley, now convicted of the murder of two 11 year-old girls, had been accused of rape on four occasions, and of indecent assault on a minor. However, this information was not passed on to authorities in Cambridgeshire because of data protection laws.

There is currently no nationwide database of police intelligence in the UK; but in its submission to the inquiry, the Home Office has provided details of a Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) pilot of such a database. It will list everyone in the UK on whom the police hold information, and includ so called soft-intelligence, that has not led to a conviction.

The data itself would not be held centrally, but would “identify the force(s) to which the CRB would need to refer its inquiries,” the Home Office said.

The inquiry also heard today that The Home Office has set up a working group police officers to review the implementation of the Act, which is interpreted differently by different forces across the UK.

The CRB currently handles background checks on those who apply for jobs working with children or vulnerable adults. According to the Home Office, one in five job applicants checked with the CRB is ruled out for employment because of the information on file. However, it only holds records of actual convictions, not other police intelligence.

The Police Superintendent’s Association told The Guardian that over-riding other human rights was acceptable in order to protect the right to life, arguing that soft intelligence should be kept along with the reasons for not prosecuting.

The Home Office said the Huntley case had highlighted a need for clearer guidance to forces “on the implications of the Data Protection Act on the retention and use of criminal conviction and local intelligence."

In slightly-related news, the Metropolitan Police Force is planning to bundle all its IT and telecoms contracts into one blockbuster outsourcing deal. The whole package could be worth up to £750 million, and is likely to save the Force a considerable sum, i>silicon.com reports. ®

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