back to article Over 900 police staff caught misusing databases

More than 900 police personnel were disciplined for unlawful data protection practices in the past three years, privacy campaigners have said. Figures released by 36 police forces in England and Wales under freedom of information (FOI) requests by Big Brother Watch (BBW) stated that 904 police officers and civilian employees …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Big Brother

    Who watches the watchmen

    I wonder how many of these officers have at some point harassed innocent photographers just trying to photograph public things and places in a perfectly lawful manner?

  2. DJ 2

    Over 900 police staff caught misusing databases looking at BBW.

    We need to get the boys in blue better p*rn.

  3. Anonymous Coward

    At least they were being punished.

    The mere fact that abuse is inevitably happening is all the more reason to not allow unbridled and/or wholesale gathering and storing of data. Like, oh, dna, anpr camera output, and many, many more. Effective use of minimal data as opposed to gathering as much as you can then not managing to do much useful with it is going to take a culture change in police and government. Even interpol doesn't get it, yet. Time to take an oversized clue stick and apply wherever necessary.

    The icon? That should be quite obvious, my dear Watson.

  4. Arrrggghh-otron

    Nothing to hide, nothing to fear...

    No sir... nothing to fear... except abuses of power and corruption and clerical mistakes...

  5. adnim Silver badge

    Systems and policies

    this is what official reports and statements usually cover. How systems are built, how they will work and how policy will protect that system. Systems and policies can be designed and implemented in such a way that they in themselves could be described as adequate, maybe even perfect.

    The weakness lies in the humans that administer, access and update those systems. Electronic devices and computer systems are not susceptible to such things as greed, envy, hatred, egotism or indeed any negative emotion that may cause them to perform out of spec. Humans on the other hand...

    Be it a police database or a cloud storage service, if a human can access that data, the data is vulnerable to theft or misuse. Regardless of the promises and guarantees of those who would be the custodians of your data, if anyone other than yourself can access your data it has already been compromised.

    1. farizzle
      Black Helicopters

      are you making a case for..

      a 'self-aware, self-governing computer system, free from the flaws of human weakness'?

      SkyNet, ahoy!!!

      1. Sean Baggaley 1


        The "Frankenstein" argument? Because, of course, all computers naturally want to TAKE OVER ZE VURLD!!! And they're completely capable of working when unplugged from the mains.

        A computer no more wants to take over the world than a knitting machine does. Both are just machines that are programmed. Both have inherent limitations in what they can do. And any problems with that programming will be the fault of *humans*, not machines.

        Sure, many humans are ignorant, but their continued survival contradicts the notion that they're all imbeciles. (Although there is *some* evidence to suggest that they could do with a bit more work on the whole "electing leaders" front.)

  6. Jon Double Nice

    BBW, and its parent organisation


    I can't think of a witty backronym.

    1. Platelet

      @Jon Double Nice

      Met Investigate Large Females?

  7. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    Only 1 way to *guarantee* no abuse of stored data.

    Don't store it in the first place.

    In some ways 900+ offenses split over 3 yrs & 36 forces is a pretty *low* figure.

    Perhaps a little *too* low?

    Is that just those where *someone* got suspicious of the query or something happened and *then* a trace of their PNC queries was run?

    I *strongly* doubt police officers (or *anyone* else authorized to query those systems) routinely has to match queries made against cases being investigated (and weather they contributed to closing the case).

    After all if as the NoTW claimed £200 was the standard price for "spinning" a number plate that would only be an additional £180k in the cops back pocket.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    We Expect......

    "........ police forces to make substantial proactive efforts to check that any access to their records is for legitimate police purposes and to take action where they discover wrongdoing"

    that is the weakness right there, who watches the watchmen?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Big Brother

      A little *too* low ?

      these are just the ones who got caught - probably more junior staff. I am sure there is an industrial-grade auditing facility on the PNC and satellite databases, so all accesses are logged. But how many *senior* officers abuse the PNC by requesting subordinates run a check ? After all, the lowly have no idea if the request is genuine or not.

      Many years ago, I worked in a company that had just been privatised. This was around the Boesky scandal, and there was an edict that staff who had access to "price sensitive" information could not buy/sell shares without approval. However, it was noted by said staff, that their managers had no such restriction - despite being able to order the minons to provide exactly the same data.

      1. Anonymous Coward

        Police Systems

        Whenever a check is made on behalf another officer you put their details in and the reason they give. If its for paperwork and there is a ref number I always get that too. I have on accasions refused checks if not happy.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Agreed, numbers too low

        I used to work with socially excluded groups, some of which required a police presence, and the majority of police we worked with, would access information on a regular basis in the same way we would check our emails.

    2. Code Monkey
      Big Brother

      Taking action...

      Taking action meaning "having a quiet word" in most cases.

    3. Anonymous Coward


      How about a little data mapping and mining to halt the abuse? Every PNC query should be driven by some information in an ongoing case - "Blue W-reg Ford Escort seen leaving the scene" would be the source of one or more searches for Blue W-registered cars in the ANPR, a description of a suspect might be linked to one or more PNC searches, and so on. Dates, times and persons accessing data all logged. Data mining to identify overall trends and therefore queries outside the norm. It won't find everything but it should be enough to scare off many people from selling on the data or using it for their own purposes.

      The idea that any staff can look at an arrest report - out of curiosity? - is staggering. It certainly isn't data protection at work.

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  10. Anonymous Coward

    Cops on Camera

    I notice on "Cops on Camera", how the cops gather round a suspect who is handcuffed on the floor of a cell and not resisting, while they twist his arms up round the back and kneel on his head all the while calling out "stop resisting', then the lads have a good giggle about it afterwards. I guess that explains the marked hostility they get from your average estate dweller ..

    1. Citizen Kaned


      a friend of mine was on the news a few years ago. an ex para (biiig lad)

      got in a fight (not his fault) and was arrested and taken into the cop shop.

      he started having a seizure, the police all stood around him laughing as he squirmed and rolled around on the floor (still cuffed) and he died. nobody helped him or did anything. there is actual CCTV footage of them all laughing as he died.

      nothing happened to any of the officers.

      yeah, im so glad the pigs are here to help look after us all.

      maybe it was because he was black? :( he had to leave the army due to all the racism there.

      sorry but a lot of police are just criminals in uniform.

  11. Pooka

    Too much time on the wrong sites?

    I "mistranslated" BBW from Big Brother Watch to... a description of females well endowed in the bulgarian funbag department.... Very disappointing to find this wasn't the case.

    I'll get my coat...

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up


    Where, where......?

  13. Captain TickTock

    Don't you mean...

    ... misusing spreadsheets?

  14. Anonymous Coward


    Are they sure it's not OVER 9000?

  15. James Micallef Silver badge
    Big Brother

    "Those found guilty of abusing their position should be sacked on the spot," Hamilton said.

    F***ing right!!

    900 illegal accesses of data should lead to 900 dismissals, not 98

  16. NomNomNom
    Thumb Down


    what's the point in being a police officer if you can't even investigate your own neighbours for crimes? this is another form of political correctness going mad.

    Here's a hypothetical situation to get you thinking. Say you are a police officer and a new neighbour moves into your street out of the blue. He hasn't introduced himself and noone even saw him move in. He doesn't appear to have a family. The curtains are always drawn. Every evening he drives off and comes back in the dead of the night unloading strange containers. He carries a disturbing gait and a manner of clothing typically observed upon those with a subversive agenda. There are vulnerable children living on the street.

    Now if you are a police officer isn't it your duty to look him up on the police database and tell your neighbours what you find? In fact arguably it would be a deriliction of duty not to. As usual the common sense side of the story rarely gets a look in.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      The officer reports it through normal channels, following the astonishingly clear procedures laid down for this sort of scenario.

      The officer shouldn't be placing himself in a position where their integrity could be called into question, and that includes running PNC checks on neighbours (or taking bungs from NI, etc)

    2. Captain TickTock

      I suppose...

      .. That would be ok if you followed the correct processes and documented your investigation, giving proper justification. Some of the cases mentioned have a disturbing conflict of interest.

      IANAL & IANAC* & all that.

      * Copper.

    3. Anonymous Coward

      Don't even joke about it !

      Enough said.

    4. Anonymous Coward

      Dangerously close to a pisstake.

      You could charge him with being in possession of a loud shirt in a built up area after the hours of darkness?

    5. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

      @NomNomNom ...

      This tag is very useful: <sarcasm>. Alternatively, but less accurately, the "Joke Alert" icon.

      Of course, that assumes you were being sarcastic ... please tell me you were. Please.

  17. sisk Silver badge

    Only 904?

    I'd honestly expect that number to be much MUCH higher.

    Oh, wait, that's just the ones who got caught. Nevermind.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Oh, wait, that's just the ones who got caught.

      AND that ANY followup was progressed against !

  18. Eduard Coli

    No surprises

    This always happens, professionalism fails in the face of human nature.

  19. Rattus Rattus

    What a disappointment

    I saw "BBW" in the title and clicked automatically, only to find the article was totally unrelated.

  20. Gwaptiva

    A little credit where it is due

    Ok, it had to be forced on them by FOI requests, and 7 forces failed to even honour those, but at least it shows that police forces have a policy, that they report and prosecute violations (at least in some cases), and from the examples they've given, they are disciplining violating officers for the right reasons.

    Obviously, I have no idea how big or small an iceberg this is the tip of, but some plods are now ex-plods for farting aboot with systems they shouldn't have. No reason to stop being vigilant, no reason not to be more vigilant, but at least someone is doing something somewhere.

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