back to article 237 UK police force staff punished for misusing IT systems in last 2 years

One UK police staffer is disciplined every three days for breaking data protection rules or otherwise misusing IT systems, according to a Freedom of Information request by think tank Parliament Street. In the last two years, 237 officers and admin staff have been punished for a variety of offences, including taking pictures of …

  1. phuzz Silver badge

    "The highest number of offenders were reported by Surrey Police"

    There's two ways to interpret that: Either Surry Police have the most officers who like browsing through other people's private data, or (more likely imo) Surry Police actually have a better system for detecting such activity, and aren't just sweeping it under the rug.

    1. Korev Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      A very good point. If you go here and sort by size then you'll see that Surrey are quite small (<10% of the Met).

    2. rg287 Silver badge

      The latter. Undoubtedly.

      The Met have >43,000 staff (~31,000 officers). Surrye have ~3600 staff including ~1900 officers.

      With 10x as many staff it is not credible to suggest that the Met genuinely have 1/3 as many data-breach incidents as Surrey (18 vs. 50).

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Unfortunately whilst Surrey are good on this aspect of oversight, there are others they fall down badly on (including some blatant cooking of the books wrt traffic speed reporting - Hint, Surrey's version of "85th percentile speed" is not the definition that's internationally accepted)

      2. 's water music Silver badge

        An alternate hypothesis (and it is entirely speculative and does not negate the better detection hypothesis) is that Surrey has a higher level of white-collar crime and the police identify more closely with these criminals on average (eg socio-economically) and that this results in more instances of corrupt release of data. The Met comparison suggest that more than one factor could be at play

    3. macjules Silver badge

      Nowadays anyone can quite legally ask UKDBS for a check on whether someone else has a criminal record, for around £23 per check. It seems a bit odd that staffers need to access this information illegally .. unless someone does not want the subject to know that they are running a check on them.

      1. chas49

        You can apply for a basic DBS check (£23) on yourself to show to a potential employer. You can't just apply for a check on anyone.

    4. Wellyboot Silver badge

      FOI says not good enough

      The FOI release is pointing out far too many gaps in the monitoring across the UK police forces.

      As for Surrey having the highest offender count, this line in the Surrey entry may go a long way towards the explaination The specialist teams that look for and tackle corruption have enough staff and resources ergo the others don't?

    5. TwistedPsycho

      I think we also have to expect different interpretations in the responses.

      Surrey mention mis-use of email which might include minor infractions that other forces did not.

      For example in one of my previous clients, they had a number of staff warned for setting up a forwarder from their company email to their personal email when they went on annual leave. The company deemed that misuse of email despite having no alternative staffing arrangements to cover the work.

      1. rg287 Silver badge

        Quite right too. The only acceptable use of email in that circumstance is an auto-responder stating:

        "I am on annual leave and will be back on <Day/Month/Year>. If the matter is urgent, please contact <name>".

        If the company has made no alternative staffing arrangements then <name> is your line manager.

        The only people who should be working when on "annual leave" are the self-employed and only at their own discretion (since the concept of annual leave doesn't really exist for contractors/freelancers and those not "employed" in the normal sense).

        Obviously this does not apply in the Land of the Free where your Freedom to be worked to death as a corporate wage slave is feverishly protected.

        It's a fair point that reporting standards may vary though. Some forces may be more focussed on serious misconduct (illegal access of protected data for personal gain/criminal use, etc) and less concerned about someone using their @police email for personal use (though I never bloody understand that either - drives me up the wall getting personal emails from people @nhs.gov.uk. Why? Just get a free personal account FFS).

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          "and those not "employed" in the normal sense"

          Which, of course, includes Police Officers who may have leave cancelled immediately before or, if in country and contactable, while on leave under some circumstances.

    6. steelpillow Silver badge

      Yes, the forces who most likely need a good kicking to get their monitoring in order are the ones who report the lowest levels of abuse.

  2. Blockchain commentard Silver badge
    Joke

    "One UK police staffer is disciplined every three days for breaking data protection rules" - well fire him then !!!! Boom, boom. I'm here all week folks !!!!

  3. Khaptain Silver badge

    Data Misuse

    Ok so if a Joe Public was to get caught accessing a computer illegaly it would prabalby be considered as theft or misuse and he would have the book thrown at him.

    Is there a reason therefore that Policeman, who by definition should be honest and upstanding citizens, are on the majority , simply slapped on the back of the wrist... On top of that, they are accessing system which probably hold an awful lot of personal details at the gritty level, so we are not talking minor problems here.

    Questions, questions, questions

  4. Charlie Clark Silver badge
    Headmaster

    Take yer lazy americanisms and get ter feck!

    One UK police staffer…

    This is simply incorrect. Staff, in terms of a police service, would be ancillary and not involved in police work.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Take yer lazy americanisms and get ter feck!

      Speaking from experience the are normally called "civilians."

      1. Oliver Mayes

        Re: Take yer lazy americanisms and get ter feck!

        All police are civilians.

        1. Blockchain commentard Silver badge

          Re: Take yer lazy americanisms and get ter feck!

          Until they put on their uniforms......

          1. rg287 Silver badge

            Re: Take yer lazy americanisms and get ter feck!

            Not even then. Unless you're American.

            7. To maintain at all times a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and that the public are the police, the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.

            If the Police weren't civilians then they'd be military. And they're not that (or shouldn't be, not in any civilised nation).

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Take yer lazy americanisms and get ter feck!

              "If the Police weren't civilians then they'd be military. And they're not that (or shouldn't be, not in any civilised nation)."

              Not exactly.

              Police are police if they are labelled police. A case in point is the North-West Mounted police (later called the Royal Canadian Mounted Police). One of the main reasons they were called police was to avoid provoking the Americans when they were deployed westward. Their equipment on that occasion included field guns and mortars. Were they not declared police they would have almost certainly have been considered a cavalry unit. According to Wikipedia the Royal Irish Constabulary was part of the model for the NWMP, and also combined police and military roles.

              In France, the Gendarmerie nationale fills military and police roles.

              In Canada, the identifying number of a police officer, similar to the American 'badge number' is referred by 'regimental number', at least in Ontario and at the federal level. Canadian (nonmilitary) police forces have two types of employees - police officers, and civilians. This distinction is absolute and marks a distinct difference in rights, duties, applicable regulations, powers, and induction procedure, as well as personal status in the organization. This was abundantly and pervasively clear when I served for a number of years as a civilian technical expert in the provincial ministry overseeing and supporting all non-federal police forces in the province, There was a reason our branch representatives to the various forces were all seconded police officers - they just had more inherent credibility and status in that environment than any civilian.

        2. Charlie Clark Silver badge

          Re: Take yer lazy americanisms and get ter feck!

          Depends a bit on the country. For example, in Germany they enjoy special non-civilian status and there is a list of the statutory fines that apply when they're insulted. And in France, many of the ones you meet are members of the armed forces: Gendarme literally means, men at arms.

          1. rg287 Silver badge

            Re: Take yer lazy americanisms and get ter feck!

            Ah, well, the Gendarme is subtly different as are the German Federal Police (who are only responsible for the security of railway stations, ports, etc - routine Policing is strictly devolved to States because of the bad history with centralised Policing - namely the Stazi).

            In France, the Gendarme are a para-military organisation distinct from the Police Nationale, who are the Police. Much like the Italian Carabinieri and Polizia di Stato.

            In those countries you have the Civil Police, then the paramilitary-esque group in the middle, and then the Military.

            In the case of a country which only has Police and Military, the Police are (or should be) most assuredly Civilian. Whilst that case naturally calls for a more heavily armed unit within the Police (e.g. SO19/SWAT) to fill that middle ground and support action against terrorism, serious organised crime, etc, the members of those units are nonetheless Police first, just as the SAS are no less soldier-first when they are asked to assist the Police in extreme circumstances (e.g. Iranian Embassy).

      2. rg287 Silver badge

        Re: Take yer lazy americanisms and get ter feck!

        All Police are civilians. Officers, PSCOs, back-office staffers. All civilians, all members of the public.

        Any Officer who describes themselves as anything other should hand in their badge/warrant card at the earliest possible opportunity.

        1. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: Take yer lazy americanisms and get ter feck!

          "All Police are civilians. Officers, PSCOs, back-office staffers. All civilians, all members of the public."

          Some are sworn officers. many are not.

  5. Bertieboy

    Contrary to popular opinion the police are and as far as I'm aware always have been civilian.

    1. Khaptain Silver badge

      Only when not on active duty !!

  6. DCFusor Silver badge

    Trust?

    These are people who want backdoor keys to your stuff - but no worry, they promise to keep them secret. Let's see, how many years or lifetimes is that 3 day average?

    In all but their own eyes, yes, police are civilians.

    1. jospanner

      Re: Trust?

      "In all but their own eyes, yes, police are civilians."

      Weird civilians who have the right to use potentially lethal violence against other civilians.

      1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

        Re: Trust?

        Not generally: armed officers must be specially sanctioned and a lot of policmen refuse the, er, "honour" precisely because it goes against the tradition of the force.

        Militias tend to shoot first as Peterloo illustrated only too well.

        1. jospanner

          Re: Trust?

          Well isn't that nice for them.

          The police are still the only group of "civilians" who are authorised to use violence. I can't even carry pepper spray.

      2. rg287 Silver badge

        Re: Trust?

        Weird civilians who have the right to use potentially lethal violence against other civilians.

        Only in the case of imminent threat to life - just like you or I can kill someone if they pose an immediate threat to your life or the life of another.

        They're better trained and equipped, but the law of justifiable homicide is broadly similar. Use of lethal force can result in murder charges until they demonstrate that it was necessary and proportionate.

        (Except in the US where they will close ranks and protect their own, even when footage shows the use of force to be grossly disproportionate)

        1. jospanner

          Re: Trust?

          "Except in the US where they will close ranks and protect their own, even when footage shows the use of force to be grossly disproportionate"

          Look, I'm sorry to bust your bubble here, but ours don't exactly have a good history of this either.

      3. Anguilla

        Re: Trust? Hong Kong's "The Filth" continued rampage !!

        jospanner

        Re: Trust?

        "In all but their own eyes, yes, police are civilians."

        Weird civilians who have the right to use potentially lethal violence against other civilians.

        Don't know about "potentially lethal violence against civilians". The black "pigs" here in HK have been running out of control for months now!! Lost count on the number of assaults on protesters *&* passers-by!!!!

  7. Scott Broukell

    I'm not trying to excuse this sort of action, just wondering if younger folk, perhaps in their twenties / early thirties, are generally less fussed about data privacy given that they have grown up within an ever growing digital culture where data / image sharing is a big part of social interaction? A minority may get a thrill therefore from leaking stuff onto the interwebs etc. If so, efforts to train both staff and officers comprehensively with regard to data protection etc. become increasingly important.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Staff,staff, staff

    I'm only very quickly going to highlight the use of the word 'Staff'.

    Staff are civilians who (in Scotland) do not hold the office of Constable. I.e, could be a temp from a job agency for example. Most corruption issues around data happen through Staff, not Officers. Partly down to the training, partly down to the cop being far more aware of how wrong it is and what the risks are.

    So it's not necessarily all cops, and often from my experience, it is the civilian staff.

    Also, not sure about England but in Scotland,you hold the office of Constable and as such, are on duty at all times, though of course you only get paid for your working hours!

    I could be done with neglect of duty (as has happened to others) if I ignore something whilst off duty, that's what the role confers on me - a responsibility to my community and the public at all times. As such, I can arrest at any time, uniform or not.

    But back to topic, mainly staff not cops.

    1. BazNav

      Re: Staff,staff, staff

      If you are outside of your working hours and arrest someone can you claim for overtime?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Staff,staff, staff

        We used to be able to get a 'Recall to Duty' which automatically gave you four hours at double time. So if for example if I happened to catch a shoplifter whilst out getting my weekly shop (which I've done in the past), then I'd shout it in (phone the control room) and get myself marked on duty. Following working day I'd stick the claim in.

        That's all gone now, regardless what happens you just get paid time and a third.

  9. Flywheel Silver badge

    we will not be commenting publicly on issues in the run-up to the General Election

    Why not? We have a right to know.

    1. rg287 Silver badge

      Re: we will not be commenting publicly on issues in the run-up to the General Election

      Let Me Google That For You

      As the article makes clear, it's because of Purdah. It's a well established thing.

      Negative findings could reflect poorly on (say) the recent Conservative government despite (say) being attributable to cuts to Policing budgets by a local Labour Council, a Plaid Cymru Police and Crime Commissioner or general incompetence by civil servants/Police leadership. For other elections, chop and change those parties as you prefer.

      Or they might indeed be down to BoJo and chums. Main point is that the scum media certainly won't paint a responsibly-nuanced picture, so they don't release it at all until afterwards - preferring you to focus on the manifestos and record-to-date.

      Anyway, it's standard. A sports club I was a member of received a SportEngland Grant in the run up to an election. We couldn't publicise it until after the election because it might reflect positively on the incumbents, even though the grant decision is apolitically made by SportEngland (though the pot of money they have to play with is in the gift of DCMS).

  10. Zippy´s Sausage Factory

    In the last two years, 237 officers and admin staff have been punished for a variety of offences, including taking pictures of screens showing police databases and sharing them online, accessing data relating to civil cases that staff were involved in, and misusing social media.

    Punished how? I'd like to know how they define the punishments and the severity of the case.

    If they're sharing the login screen of the PCT on Twitter and saying "look at this loading bar, I've been trying to log in for half an hour and it's just spinning", to my mind that's in the public interest not really disciplinary-worthy beyond a finger wag and some tutting, I suspect others may disagree.

    On the other hand if they're taking pictures of people's criminal records or any other juicy info to pass onto the tabloids, gangsters or other dodgy types, then I'd expect the level of discipline involved to be career-ending.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      The most common misuse reason is people using the system to check out their street or a street with a house they want to buy. I.e information that's not identifying anyone - they want to see if it's a bad area, etc.

      So this will result in a disciplinary with most probably s formal written warning. They could also be charged, but that only usually happens where there's information being shared out with such as to crime groups, etc.

      1. M7S

        Buying a house

        Some years back police officers used to be required to get permission to live in/buy a house so that purpose, assuming proper channels were used, would not be a breach of regulations unless that requirement no longer exists

      2. Bendacious

        Nope - that's available publicly. I can see every crime that's happened on my street or any street on https://www.police.uk/ and that's been the case for many years. No need to access a secure database for that.

        1. sam 12

          That only works for "Crime and policing in England, Wales and Northern Ireland"

  11. Danny 2 Silver badge

    ACAB

    There is an anarchist phrase, All Cops Are, but they aren't all. The fact we even know that some are is because some aren't. The worst ones get promoted though. Their training is awful, their culture is awful. A lovely young relative who completed the training started complaining about "human rights" because they stopped them doing their job 'properly'.

    I've witnessed, or been subjected to, some nasty police abuses and it's the one time I appreciate my awful brother in law being a lawyer. I was arrested with a girl in a wheelchair who was being hurt by a MoD plod. I told the cop arresting me to stop his mate hurting her. Typical escalating cop response, "Why, are you going to do something about it?"

    They are always looking to start a fight.

    "Yes, I will. My brother in law is a QC, my family is well off, and I will have both of you in court. Unless you stop him hurting her now you'll both lose your jobs and face prison".

    I know, posh privilege.

    Police get trained to have a sense of entitlement and empowerment. I'd trust anyone here with my data rather any police officer. I'm not anti-police, they have a far worse job than any of us. My cop relative came late to Christmas once because they had to deal with a woman who'd killed her kids and jumped out the window without killing herself. My worst Christmas at work was swapping out the server hard disks at Sky TV, for far more money.

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: ACAB

      "The worst ones get promoted though. Their training is awful, their culture is awful. "

      If you think it's bad in the UK, then you should see what it's like elsewhere and reflect that things have improved a lot over the years here. Most Ex-UK police who get recruited to New Zealand last less than 18 months before bailing out for places with less toxic work cultures. Gene Hunt would be in his element there.

      1. Danny 2 Silver badge

        Re: ACAB

        My interactions with French and Italian police, and my Kiwi ex, make me fully agree with you.

        Italian border police made me and two other 21 year olds (females) miss a train to France deliberately so they could search through their backpacks - not the least bit interested in mine.

        When I was 29 a French cop pulled a pistol on me simply because I was complaining about RyanAir making me miss a flight, the one time I got into a fight with a cop simply because I was scared shitless. Fight and then flight.

        I'd just witnessed a very aggressive 'manifestation' (cross between a strike and a direct action) by striking riot police in Paris.

        No British cop ever pulled a gun on me or used violence against me, I'm just saying they often have tried to provoke fights or have used violence unjustifiably against innocents when I was present. I saw one 12ish year old girl batoned hard to her head for being in the wrong place and the wrong time.

        Like I said, I've know good Scottish cops too that have let me off with stuff that could have had me in prison.

        There was a 1950s BBC series called 'Face to Face' that featured an interview with Bertrand Russell describing being rescued by the police as a peace protester in the First World War. You can find it on YouTube so I won't bother with an exact transcript, but it went along the lines of:

        He was about to be attacked by a jingoistic London mob, and his friends approached the police for help but they turned a blind eye.

        "You really should do something about this, he's a distinguished writer"

        "Oh?" said the police.

        "Yes, he's a well known philosopher"

        "Oh?" said the police.

        "He's the brother of an Earl!"

        "And the police rushed and saved me".

        [Edit: Found it elsewhere.

        A fanatic against fanaticism, and other pleasures of Bertrand Russell in his own words

        ]

  12. Bendacious

    Human nature (we are scum)

    A few years ago a colleague of mine was looking to have some building work done on his house. He got quotes from three builders, as is advised. Then my colleague's wife went to work at her job in the local courts and looked up each of the builders on the court computer. Two of them had County Court Judgements pending against them so they went with the third one. My colleague told me this as though it was just a clever use of the resources available. This is why nothing should be in a database accessible to civil servants unless absolutely necessary and access is fully audited and access to data not required for your job is an instant criminal conviction.

    I hear they share ISP browsing history records with council employees these days.

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Human nature (we are scum)

      "I hear they share ISP browsing history records with council employees these days."

      And thanks to RIPA, it's a criminal matter (where you're the one in trouble) if you find out they're doing it.

  13. sam 12

    The headline is somewhat mistaken in that it talks of "UK police staff" yet the article only provides information on England & Wales, nothing about Northern Ireland or Scotland which have their own separate police services.

    Do "parliament street" think the UK is just England & Wales or is that just sloppy ignorance from The Register, you would think that The Register's journalists would know that, especially the bit about the ICO only covering England & Wales as far as policing FOI requests are concerned

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Much as the UK is not JUST England & Wales.... England & Wales are in the UK for now, and so it's entirely accurate, if not specific.

      The distinction you make would be interesting, and useful - had you delivered it in a slightly better tone.

      Here's how your comment could be improved:

      "The ICO only covers England & Wales, as far as policing FOI requests are concerned.

      Northern Ireland or Scotland have their own separate police services - is there any data from them?"

  14. Andy The Hat Silver badge

    237 issues ...

    Why then are there not at least several declarations on the ICO site rather than the two or three 'actions' against the police force I spotted going back to 2017? Or, despite several being worthy of disciplinary, resignation or sacking, were none of them significant enough for the ICO to issue rulings?

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