Through my seat on the Crime and Justice Sector Transparency panel I have asked the Home Office for a note on lay or civilian membership of governance bodies of the major police databases. I want to help stop the police blundering into the same problems that the NHS England encountered with Caredata through, in my view poor management and a lack of balanced governance.
About ten years ago as a resident of London’s Kings Cross I was heavily involved in helping the police and other local bodies fight crime. I am a strong supporter of the police’s work, but they are often hopeless at communicating the good they do. I used my website to publish lists sent out by the police to local media of their ‘most wanted’.
In January 2013 I was contacted by a barrister on behalf of his client about a picture on my site of a person wanted for a chat about an assault in an Islington’s Most Wanted post in 2012, where all the copy and pictures had been supplied by the police and I had attributed it to them. The person was cleared from police inquiries when witnesses didn’t come forward and the issue had now come up during his search for work as my site was the major google result for his name. After an exchange I took the post down. Asking the police about why they hadn’t told me of this change in status didn’t elicit a meaningful response.
I now see that the police have got into some hot water about their national mug shot database, which it seems they neglected to inform the biometrics commissioner about. And the police response is pretty poor – they don’t seem to grasp the issue of holding pictures of innocent people.
Mike Barton, the head of the Association of Chief Police Officers, said that forces need to use cutting-edge technology.
“I hear much criticism of policing that we are not up to speed and it does come as a surprise to me that we’re now being admonished for being ahead of the game.
“If parliament chooses to… regulate our use of photographs over and above that which we already have, then I’m more than happy.”
The police run some colossal databases as part of their work. The biggest is possibly the ANPR system which records car movements. There have been over ten billion sightings (yes, billion) stored according to an ACPO report.
‘Currently (April 2012) the NADC is receiving more than 18 million ‘reads’ each day, with almost 11.2 billion vehicle sightings stored on the database.’
The governance of these database is often hard to establish – I’d welcome links in the comments to the minutes of the governing bodies, their membership etc if any police folk would care to share. The databases are very important to crime fighting but the police’s blundering response to the mugshot database, and the curious status of ACPO products/services makes me concerned that they might stumble into the same morass as enmired NHS England with the Caredata fiasco. There is now broadly based advisory group for care data that involves a wide range of people other than just NHS England and its supporters from academics to privacy activists. And I wonder if it isn’t time to ensure there are similar structures for the major police databases.
First of all we need to establish the current position and I have asked Home Office officials for an advice note on the civilian or lay membership of police governance bodies for their data products, which I shall publish when received.
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