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Police make a mockery of data protection

Court judgment 'forgets privacy rights of millions'

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He went on: "The fact that the statistics actually showed that the risk was greater than with non-offenders is not something I would pray in aid. It is simply the honest and rationally held belief that convictions, however old and however minor, can be of value in the fight against crime and thus the retention of that information should not be denied to the police."

Or in other words, it does not matter whether data is relevant to the purposes for which an organisation has registered – so long as they believe it is.

In what was almost an anti-climax, following those pronouncements, Waller LJ then argued that the fact that individuals had convictions revealed through CRB or employment legislation was not the fault of the police retaining the data – but the fault of legislation allowing employers to view data requested by individuals.

As Liberty lawyer Anna Fairclough, a specialist in privacy litigation, put it: "Exceptions to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act and the net of employment vetting are being cast so wide that people will be forever haunted by the minor indiscretions of their youth.

"The benefit to the police of retaining the samples is minimal. The cost to the individuals can be huge - and often potentially life-ruining.

"This judgment forgets the privacy rights of millions of people and we hope it is appealed."

While the Police were busy overturning individual rights to privacy in one court, ACPO and the Met were elsewhere digging their heels in over what they claimed to be "excessive" data collection. Their objections follow Home Office plans to set up an online "data hub" that will be accessed by selected civil servants for research purposes.

The new data hub would contain details about every crime, rather than summaries by area. However, it would include data at individual crime level, including crime reference number, date, exact location, crime type, aggravating factors and details of the victim and offender, excluding their names. Some details of arresting officers would be included, but no persoanlly identifying details.

According to the Home Office, this database is no more than a statistical tool, to be used to generate crime statistics centrally, reduce the burden on local forces and improve the monitoring of how effective policy is.

According to the Met, Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson has received legal advice to the effect that the Data Protection Act may stop some details being handed over. This seems unlikely, since the DPA is relevant only where the processing of personal information takes place – and in the light of recent police moves to undermine it, seems less likely still. ®

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