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The National Policing Improvement Agency, in charge of central British police databases, has announced the rollout of the new Police National Database, an intelligence-sharing tool designed to let coppers access information across force boundaries – a thing which was very difficult to do until now.

"In many cases forces have been conducting their investigations in isolation, unable to see everything the police service knows about a suspect and unable to make fully informed decisions," said NPIA chief Nick Gargan, announcing the rollout yesterday. "The PND pulls together all that local knowledge and allows investigators to see the full intelligence picture ... Many people will be surprised to know that the police service has not had this capability for many years."

The new PND project was funded by the Home Office, overseen by the NPIA and executed by Logica. According to the NPIA, even as it has been deployed over recent months it has achieved several successes. Specifically:

A known northern-based organised crime group, involved in firearms offences, kidnapping and extortion, were found to be operating in the south of the country. This new intelligence is being used by the operation team to monitor offending patterns and assist arrests;

An AWOL soldier, wanted in connection with an alleged theft, was found to be involved with a notorious, violent group of football supporters.

The new database's implementation followed recommendations made by Lord Bichard's inquiry following the Soham murders of 2002. Lord Bichard said in tinned quotes accompanying the PND rollout:

"I chaired the Soham Inquiry ... coming fresh to that situation, I was surprised by some of the things that I found. One of the things that surprised me the most was the fact that police forces in this country were not able to exchange information routinely and electronically on individuals ... I was shocked by that and one of the most important recommendations from the inquiry was that we did something about it as quickly as possible, and from that the Police National Database was born."

The NPIA is keen to emphasise that the PND is being run in accordance with privacy and data-protection rules. We are told:

The PND does not create new information; it copies existing locally-held intelligence and information from police forces' crime, intelligence, custody, domestic violence and child abuse databases.

Nearly 100 organisations with an interest in privacy, including all English and Welsh police forces, were consulted ... 17 responses were received from a narrow range of organisations – 15 from police forces, police authorities or police related associations, one from the Information Commissioner's Office and one from the Welsh Language Board. The concerns covered access to data, data quality and its interpretation, the sensitivity of some information and the retention of data.

Access to and use of the PND is strictly controlled. Only authorised and appropriately vetted users are able to access the system via a single digital identity using smartcard technology; role-based access controls ensure that users only have access to information that they need for their particular business role and there are extensive auditing systems in place to deter misuse.

Under the Data Protection Act 1998, individuals have the right to access personal data held about them on the PND, known as subject access. Anyone wishing to find out what is held about them on PND should contact their local force.

Top cops have ordered that information on victims should only be shared on the PND where there is a demonstrable reason to do so for their own safety, as where cops may need to know they are under threat. Information on witnesses will not be put on the PND unless they are also suspects, associates [of criminals or suspects] or are victims needing to be safeguarded.

Policing and criminal justice minister Nick Herbert described the PND as a "powerful crime fighting tool". ®

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