What Happens When Your Data is Mishandled by the Police?

There are few public bodies that hold information more sensitive than the data within the police’s records. As a result, the police must be extremely diligent when it comes to taking care of your data, and are liable to be sued if they fail in this duty. Here, the experts at DPP Law explain the police’s approach to and what you can do if your data is mishandled by the police.

The Data Protection Act and Management of Police Information

Every business and public body must adhere to 2018’s Data Protection Act, police included. In brief, this government legislation states that any data an organisation holds about a specific individual must be accurate, kept up to date, used correctly and for the purpose for which it was collected and only kept for as long as it is needed. Most importantly for the subject at hand, the data must also “be handled in a way that ensures appropriate security, including protection against unlawful or unauthorised processing, access, loss, destruction or damage”.

There are a number of circumstances under which the police force may breach the requirements of the Data Protection Act 2018, or GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation). These include:

  • Data theft, or theft of a device containing data
  • Loss of data or the relevant data storage device
  • Access to data by an unauthorised individual
  • Damage to or destruction of physical or electronic files, folders or devices containing data
  • Equipment failure
  • Unlawful disclosure of data to a third party, whether through ignorance or regulation or by deception on the part of the third party
  • Human error
  • An “Act of God” such as a fire or flood
  • Data hacking

If any of the above incidents occur, the police force in question are legally required to inform you as soon as possible, and to also notify their Data Protection Officer of what has happened.

They should take steps to contain the existing data, then rectify and respond to the breach. They should then assess any ongoing risk to the data and respond accordingly.

What Happens When Police Take Your Details?

If you have had dealings with the police in the past, they may have retained some of your data for their records. They may, for example, have recorded your address or contact details if you reported or witnessed a crime, or have been reported for an offence.

However, at the end of 2017, the police lost the right to access communications data stored on your personal electronic devices or as a result of your online activity without specific judicial authorisation, and can now only apply to do so if you are suspected of a serious crime.

Under GDPR, you may be able to ask your local police station – or the Association of Chief Police Officers’ Criminal Records Office (ACRO) if the information you’re looking for is on national police systems – for information about the data they currently hold about you. The data you request may need to be edited in order to protect information about other individuals.

Any data that is necessary to be retained for the “prevention, detection, investigation or prosecution of criminal offences” or the “execution of criminal penalties” must be retained by the police and cannot be disclosed.

Recent Police Data Protection Breaches

A recent example of a police data protection breach is the case of Northumbria Police employee Alexander Earl, who shared confidential CCTV footage taken from inside a custody suite via WhatsApp.

The disclosure of such information was found to break data protection laws, and Earl was dismissed in 2018, prior to his conviction for the offence. He was ordered to pay a £300 fine, £85 in costs and a £30 victim surcharge.

What Happens When Your Data is Mishandled by the Police?

If you discover that your data:

  • Has been shared without permission
  • Has been recorded or disclosed incorrectly
  • Has been lost by a member of the force or a connected third party
  • Has been passed on to an individual who may represent a danger to your wellbeing
  • Has been collected as a result of unlawful spying

…or has been mishandled, stolen or unlawfully accessed while in the police’s possession, you should make contact with a legal specialist immediately.

DPP Law are expert solicitors specialising in actions against the police, and can help you to achieve compensation that will help return you to your circumstances previous to the breach and cover any and all losses you may have experienced as a result.