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back to article Exposed: RSPCA drills into cops' databases, harvests private info

British animal welfare charity the RSPCA enjoys unique access to confidential information on the Police National Computer (PNC) - the extent of which has not been disclosed before. Civilians who claim to work for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals can access criminal records and carry out vehicle checks …

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Anonymous Coward

They need every help they can to continue the fight. They're not there just to pickup lost kittens - if you look in to what they face on a regular basis, and I mean _really_ look, then I challenge you to not come away sickened to the core.

In the interests of balanced argument I sincerely hope the RSPCA sense that access to this level of data is uncomfortable to some and they need a transparent process to justify the access.

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Stop

I don't have problem with the concept of a police force, I don't have a problem with charities and I don't have a problem with political lobbying groups. But when they're all three, like the RSPCA, I feel deeply uncomfortable about it.

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Whilst I agree the animal abuse they come up against is horrific, they're not exactly helping themselves. Firstly, they obviously aren't 'uncomfortable' with the data as they seem to have no transparent process and have never been audited etc. Also, the membership of the RSPCA plunged some years back when they turned from being an animal charity into a political lobbying group running a lot of agendas not core to their ideals.

I've the utmost respect for anyone dealing with animal abuse (of whatever nature), but they've moved quite a way from this. Now, they seem to have unfettered, pretty uncontrolled and unaudited access to very, very personal data.

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And there was me thinking it was the job of the police to actually investigate crime. This sort of arrangement is little better than abuse of RIPA for investigation of rogue dog shit and does nothing to restore the public faith in law and order or the police in general. It is abuse of public trust and shows there is now precious little oversight in policing or Government with people just doing whatever the fuck they please.

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The problem is that the RSPCA are not on the list of those with direct pnc access, given in here:

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200809/ldselect/ldconst/18/18we26.htm

but are sold that access, which has been retrieved by a limited company (acpo) who are not, seemingly, ones with direct access. They must therefore be retrieving the information by use of the police.

I doubt that particular route is [yet] legal.

But, given the rampant criminality of both national and local government departments, I consider no action will be taken. Ever.

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Anonymous Coward

If you want to throw your money away, feel free...or find a charity that actually spends it's money on looking after animals.

.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/rspca-denies-killing-too-many-healthy-animals-8433634.html

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http://www.thisissomerset.co.uk/MP-tells-RSPCA-stop-political-prosecutions/story-18948063-detail/story.html#axzz2aXNHphLu

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http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/10042194/RSPCA-criticised-by-judge-for-wasting-valuable-court-time-by-calling-off-Hunting-Act-prosecution-at-11th-hour.html

.

http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/law/article3792720.ece

.

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Well done

That's nice journalism and it will be intriguing to follow the story.

RSPCA also loves prosecuting the elderly and infirm. From Private Eye: The RSPCA is thought to be the most prolific private prosecutor in the country.... Its sister organisation in Scotland, the Scottish SPCA, does not carry out private prosecutions... the same is true of the RSPB, which used to prosecute but stopped in 1992..."

...RSPCA's "inspectorate" [has been described as] "an officious, sub standard, pretend police force"... RSPCA officers wear uniforms which are almost indistinguishable from police garb, leading to confusion about their powers when they doorstop people...

Is the RSPCA a nasty piece of work?

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"or find a charity that actually spends it's money on looking after animals"

Good luck with that, for several years I was employed by a direct mailing company that specialised in fundraising for charity. Time after time I was told the clients had no images of recently rescued animals for use on the flyers and was told in no uncertian terms by my employer to go grab a camera then find any fly bitten pony.

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Wow.

Great journalism El Reg!

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PeTA

Well, at least it's not PeTA hoking around in the PNC......

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Anonymous Coward

Re: PeTA

I'm sure they'll see this as an avenue to follow ... give it time

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Anonymous Coward

F**k the RSPCA

Absolutely unacceptable. Time to remove the charitable status of this political organisation.

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Re: F**k the RSPCA

As long as the NSPCC, Oxfam etc get similar treatment, I'm with you on that.

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Ah, ....ACPO

As I understand it, ACPO are a private company set up by senior police officers to enable them to make lots of money from their experience and wide ranging contacts in government and the police. I don't mind them being paid to give their expert opinion and advice or to carry out expert audits etc. I'd do that if I had the relevant experience.

However, I wonder how it is that a private company, with no statutory authority, can take a copy of highly confidential and sensitive information and then sell it to another 'company' which has no statutory authority.

Who else are they selling this information to? Could it be those banks and financial institutions, involved in illegal information gathering, that SOCA have known about but refuse to identify. (SOCA, another group of senior and experienced police officers.) It all looks very cosy doesn't it?

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WTF?

Re: Ah, ....ACPO

Personally, if it helps the RSPCA to catch the scum who like to indulge in badger baiting or other forms of animal cruelty then I'm in favour of them having access. I suspect the Police don't have the time or the inclination to pursue most of these cases.

I'm far more annoyed at the DVLC selling my personal details to non statutory parking companies so they can try and frighten me into paying a £100 fine because I happen to have parked 15 minutes longer than 2 hours on a motorway service station car-park.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Ah, ....ACPO

> paying a £100 fine

It's not a fine, they have no power to levy fines. It's merely an invitation to pay an extortionate parking fee. Feel free to ignore them, they know that they'll lose if they take it to a civil court.

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Stop

Re: Ah, ....ACPO

> Personally, if it helps the RSPCA to catch the scum who like to indulge in badger baiting or other forms of animal cruelty then I'm in favour of them having access.

But is it? And what else might it be bring used for? And who else might have access?

What provisions do the RSPCA have for protecting that data from falling into other's hands?

Who determines whether they should receive particular data? What data are they receiving?

Is it even legal? What do they do with the data after they no longer need it? Are they keeping it or destroying it?

Do the RSPCA have to disclose what they know to the court? Does that then make it public knowledge?

That's a big load of what ifs.

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Coat

To get more information out of the RSPCA we need to .....

..... badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger

...... them

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EIyixC9NsLI

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Anonymous Coward

If you've not got a criminal record then you won't be on there?

How else are they going to check that people aren't breaking the law by taking ownership of animals despite being banned for life?

There's probably more abuse of the PNC by the police than the RSPCA.

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@AC

Many years ago we used to have a dog license for, er, dogs. Sadly it was all a bit backwards and not like a driving license and more like a dog tax. The Isle of Man still has something similar. It was abandoned as nobody really bothered.

Therein lies the point. I don't have to ask the RSPCA's permission before I go and get a dog, cat, goldfish, or even bees. I just go and get them. The RSPCA gets involved if and when a complaint is made.

Seeing as they instigate the "must not keep animals again" items, surely they have their OWN database of the names. Even if they don't (which is better IMHO) then all they have to ask is "has John Doe of 999 Letsbee Avenue been banned for keeping animals. If yes, for how long." They don't need to know the rest of the guff they ask for. It's not proportionate.

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"Probably", yes. But there are many, many more police officers with access to the PNC than officers of the RSPCA so that's not really the issue, is it?

The real questions about potential abuse of the PNC by members of the RSPCA are: 1) is the rate of abuse greater per user than among the police?; and 2) what is done to prevent and punish abuses of the system?

Unfortunately, given the complete lack of scrutiny suggested in El Reg's report the answers seem to be 1) there's no way to find out; and 2) nothing. The second answer is especially worrying.

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Hang On

Are only criminals on the database?

Wouldn't convictions be in the public domain?

Just asking.

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(Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

Re: Hang On

"Wouldn't convictions be in the public domain?"

Not cautions, reprimands, verbal warnings or "other information" ACRO deems necessary to divulge, I'd argue.

C.

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Happy

Re: @AC

If you see a van from the "Ministry of Housinge", get a fish license with all haste

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Re: Hang On

The database, in various guises, holds any information the police may have on a person. It's called "intelligence". A person does not have to have a criminal record to be on the pnc, although it helps!

Try giving a subject access request to your local farce....even your motoring convictions show...and if you drive a vehicle registered to you, they also have data on that vehicles location/date/time.

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WTF?

Oh please...

Not the "if you've got nothing to fear" argument. Please. As far as I'm aware you don't have to have a record to be on the computer. Being questioned or suspected of something may be enough for you to have a record.

The RSPCA *aren't* supposed to check on people to see if they're breaking the law any more than I am. They aren't part of the legal/judicial system and have absolutely no powers other than those granted to any individual or organisation in the UK.

Perhaps we should all be required to be interviewed by the RSPCA before we're allowed to own a pet of any sort. Then they could deny access to those they considered to be capable of animal cruelty. /sarc

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WTF?

That is totally disproportionate to the situation. Most bodies would require a court order to get that info, but the RSPCA can just ask?

It used to be the case that an employer wanting to check someone could call the police and ask if "Mr XXX" had a record, and the only allowable answers were "Yes" or "No", I don't know if that is still the case. It would seem reasonable that the RSPCA could ask "Does Mr XXX have a record of violence or maltreating animals" and get a similar binary answer but I don't see any reason that they should ever be given the details. No doubt the police are happy to offload some of their casework so that they can get on with patrolling their desks.

The RSPCA does seem to have been taken over by fox-hugging anti-hunt types, maybe now we see how hunt saboteurs and the animal liberation loonies have been getting their info?

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WTF?

"It used to be the case that an employer wanting to check someone could call the police and ask if "Mr XXX" had a record"

Not sure if that's a UK thing or if it's now changed, but elsewhere I've worked in EU, the police only give a document to the individual stating (presumably) that they have a clean record, and the individual passes this on to the prospective employer. Police aren't allowed to give that information to the employer ( Presumably because anyone can call them pretending to be a prospective employer of Mr XXX).

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Of course they can [employers ask].

They just get a crb check done....anything under 10 years shows.

Or get an enhanced crb check done, everything ever shows then INCLUDING rumours etc.

The very minor problem that an ecrb check is only supposed to be done in respect of those with unsupervised access to children or vulnerable adults has never stopped those with no access at all from being ecrb checked [even though it is illegal]

Then there is "safeguarding" as well.....................................................

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Anonymous Coward

" Not sure if that's a UK thing or if it's now changed, but elsewhere I've worked in EU, the police only give a document to the individual stating (presumably) that they have a clean record, and the individual passes this on to the prospective employer. "

...in the very few cases where that is actually legal. Because elsewhere I've worked in the EU, employers have no right to ask for a police certificate (and they don't).

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So, a private charity can request highly personal information through a private company (ACPO)?

The ICO should be crawling all over this.

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Anonymous Coward

@Jim Booth

"The ICO should be crawling all over this."

Why? What do you think he's going to do about it? Prosecute a load of ex police officers? (He's got SOCA to deal with first re: hacking over the last several years and that's not going anywhere fast.)

The ICO is a chocolate teapot.

And as useless as OFCOM.

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Re: @Jim Booth @AC

There are two types of "should": the one that accepts the reality of the situation as it is, and the one that implies that an effective body would be doing the job it is supposed to do. I think Jim was referring to the latter.

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Flame

Tip of very large iceberg

To those in the know about the RSPCA this will come as no surprise.

Another angle to follow would be the NSPCC - with whom the RSPCA share many characteristics and information.

Too often people look at charities and take their stated aims at face value. To be anti-RSPCA is often wilfully misconstrued as being pro animal cruelty.

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That's nice

Who's next PETA, Animal liberation fund, I Luv Noddy group ?

if I make a donation can I also request the criminal background details of my neighbours ?

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Coat

Re: Who's next

Woodland Trust probably. They can then determine who's body has been buried in the wood. (plus also ensure that their city centre 'chuggers' have the right mugging credentials)

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Megaphone

This does not surprise me. The RSPA has always been a rogue organisation which tries to scare the general public into believing that they are part of the police force by the use of uniforms and calling their agents 'officers'. They do do some good work, but they also persecute others, especially those that aren't taken in by their bully-boy tactics.

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Anonymous Coward

" The RSPA has always been a rogue organisation which tries to scare the general public into believing that they are part of the police force by the use of uniforms and calling their agents 'officers'. "

Why do the English (not to mention the Merkins and the Oztralians) love fancy dresses so much? Man, wouldn't I piss myself laughing if some random bloke came to me dressed up in the "uniform" of some so-called "charity".

Unfortunately in the country where I live a) it's an offence to wear anything that might be remotely misconstrued as a police-like uniform, and b) you would look like such a tool that people won't even entertain the idea in the first place. This means I'll never get a chance to laugh at them unless I travel back to Britain, which I really have no intention of doing.

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Anonymous Coward

" it's an offence to wear anything that might be remotely misconstrued as a police-like uniform"

Same in the UK but the only other bunch to try it are the Sally Army and since our bobbies don't routinely carry brass instruments nor drums (and the SA do nothing more threatening than rattling the collection tin) are seldom mistaken for guardians of law and order.

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"" it's an offence to wear anything that might be remotely misconstrued as a police-like uniform"

Same in the UK but the only other bunch to try it are the Sally Army"

Nope - private security staff, traffic wardens, Highways Agency staff and others dress up in quasi-police uniforms. I've long thought it should be either banned, or, if the law actually exists, prosecute under it, especially the private firms.

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RSPCA prosecutions warchest numbers

The most recent audited (as in looked at by an audit firm) accounts are for the year to 31 December 2011. In that year of about 160,000 investigations just over 2,000 were referred to the prosecutions department, but there is no data on how many prosecutions were attempted. I'd guess at less than that from the RSPCA's claims that hunting accounted for 49 prosecutions (more than badgers and deer combined) of which 73% were successful. I don't know what happened to the poor person who was 0.77% prosecuted. My point is that if they are shouting about this then it must be a material number of prosecutions, so the total number would be in the hundreds, most likely under 1,000.

What I don't see is the reason for collecting the police data on some/all of those 160,000 people. That's a lot of data requests if it hits all of them!

It has income from prosecutions, I guess that is "contributions towards costs" by those found guilty, of about £1.1M but it spent over £8M prosecuting. This is before the epic £320k odd it spent going after David Cameron's local hunt on which it recovered £15k or so from the success.

Source - http://apps.charitycommission.gov.uk/Accounts/Ends99%5C0000219099_ac_20111231_e_c.pdf

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Anonymous Coward

RSPCA

I've spoken to quite a few people over the years who deal with animal welfair issues, like a local badger hospital and suchlike. It's odd that quite a lot of these people and organisations hold quite a poor view of the RSPCA for one reason or another.

It seems that the RSPCA are bit like Mother Teresa - on the face of it, they can't POSSIBLY be bad, but dig a bit deeper and they are not the whiter-than-white organisation that they make out to be. They are very picky about what they choose to do, and what they choose not to do (which is quite a lot). And they are an absolute bugger to get hold of when you could do with them! And the reasons are not financial; they have mountains of cash.

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Unhappy

Re: RSPCA

Yup, if you are interested in animal welfare you *always* go to a specialist charity and you *never* go to the RSPCA, who simply will not act unless there is a television crew on hand. Even when the RSPCA do intervene they almost always pass on animals they have rescued to other charities to look after- you can see the large scale horse neglect cases may have RSPCA involved in front of the cameras but it is people like World Horse Welfare that do most of the legwork and Redwings who end up looking after the horses. I don't know as much about other animals, but from what I can gather it's pretty much the same all over.

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Re: RSPCA

The RSPCA have a reputation among horse owners of being purely prosecution-orientated to the extent that they will let horses starve almost to death to enhance a case against an owner, rather than chuck a bale of hay into the field every week or so to aleviate the suffering of starving animals. They also have a known habit of taking extreme care when "policing" events like the Appleby Horse Fair never to actually witness any cruelty for fear of actually having to do something about it. Granted this is pure survival tactics, as gypsies tend to distrust people in uniform and tend to band together if threatened and threaten right back, but if they take the time and money to go to the events then they could at least do something.

Their stance on the measures taken to eradicate zoonotic TB are nothing short of hypocrisy and knuckle-dragging stupidity; we know that simply ignoring a wildlife reservoir of TB in badgers and culling just infected cows doesn't work, because that is what we've been doing for the last decade and a half. Over this time, TB has gone from a mere handful of cases in very isolated pockets to a rampantly spreading epidemic costing the lives of hundreds of thousands of cows per year; the RSPCA stance of "Cute little badgers, protect the cute little badgers at all costs" is horribly counter-productive. It doesn't even help badgers at all, as an infected brock takes about a year to slowly and painfully die of TB, at the end of which it simultaneously starves and dies of asphyxia from ruined lungs.

As a result, the RSPCA is taking a stance which actively leads to thousands of badgers dying horribly per year, and many tens of thousands of cattle being rather more humanely destroyed over the same year; this is not promoting animal rights, or preventing animal cruelty but instead is actively causing more animal cruelty!

What it does do is pull in donations from the hard of thinking, which the RSPCA uses to promote a political stance all of its own. This abuse needs to be stopped, as does the RSPCA's abuse of court process and abuse of police information.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: RSPCA

So you expect the RSPCA to be operating huge, empty, stabling complexes *just in case* a large scale rescue comes-in? That would be a tremendous waste of money, don't you think? Redwings (and other charities) will spread the load between them - being paid for it by the RSPCA, I should add, which nicely boosts the other charities' coffers and raises their profile. Isn't that an efficient way to do things? How do you propose they should operate instead?

Perhaps those commenting here about the virtues (or otherwise) of the RSPCA should be focusing on the IT angle - which is perhaps the bit they know something about?

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Re: RSPCA

I can only speak from my knowledge, which is more on the small charity side and specific to equines. I'm not suggesting they need to be running holding facilities, but they could occasionally give credit to everyone else who does all the work rather than making out that they are the main charity and everyone else is just living off their leavings. The simple case as I see it is that if the RSPCA didn't exist and their funding was spread between specialist charities doing the same work, more animals would be saved. They actively impede the cause of animal welfare in this country.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: RSPCA

They do often give credit to partnering organisations and agencies in their press releases. Here are some equestrian examples:

http://www.rspca.org.uk/servlet/Satellite?blobcol=urlblob&blobheader=application%2Fpdf&blobkey=id&blobtable=RSPCABlob&blobwhere=1236788766162&ssbinary=true gives credit to World Horse Rescue and Redwings

http://www.rspca.org.uk/media/pressreleases/details/-/article/PressFiveBannedFromKeepingAnimals24Jul13 gives credit to Blue Cross and World Horse Rescue

http://www.rspca.org.uk/media/pressreleases/details/-/article/PressSixMonthJailSentenceForCausingUnnecessarySufferingToHorses plugs a number of horse charities

If, when publishing articles, the press choose to not print those credits then that's hardly the RSPCA's fault - is it?

Moreover, it's not all about 'saving animals' - the RSPCA deal with the people who own the animals, far more so than the animals themselves. Other animal charities do not have the will or the means to prosecute individuals, to seek bans and prevent people who are not fit to own animals from owning them. Surely, in seeking to prevent the unfit (as determined by a court of law) from owning animals, they are benefiting animal welfare? Other charities also have the luxury of being able to say "we're full" and turn animals away - knowing that the RSPCA will step-in and deal with it one way or another. Dogs Trust, for example, "won't put a healthy dog to sleep" - but they also won't take-on Staffies in many places or any unhealthy dog or one with behavioural issues, who are simply turned away.

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Anonymous Coward

WTF is this?! A private institution has carte blanch to rifle through the national police database? With no auditing or overview? Well I suppose some bloke with a rubber stamp that goes "another request from the RSPCA" *stamp*

Anyone who doesn't think this is completely wrong is mental. If they have it who else does? And seen as the RSPCA is a political organisation they should be any different to any other large group of lobbyists.

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Oh really?

This does not surprise me. The AA has always been a rogue organisation which tries to scare the general public into believing that they are part of the police force by the use of uniforms and calling their drivers 'patrols'. They do do some good work, but they also persecute others, especially those that aren't taken in by their bully-boy tactics.

See what I did there? Why dont you actually post some evidence of these rogue activities before publishing sweeping statements?

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FAIL

Re: Oh really?

If you'd gone with Highway Agency Traffic Wombles and their vehicles marked up in a scheme uncannily similar to that of the Police - who enjoy closing multiple motorway lanes for no good reason other than they've run out of doughnuts and want to make a thousand people miserable - you might have been onto something.

Or you could have picked on Local Authority "Parking Enforcement officers" who's remit is more concerned with raising money than preventing congestion, in their uniforms that need only to have the green ribbons swapped for blue to become PCSO lookalikes.

Pretty sure no one thinks the AA have special legal powers or are part of the Police.

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