Police suffer 2,315 data breaches in five years


Police have suffered 2,315 data breaches in the last five years, Big Brother Watch revealed today, leading it to question whether forces can be trusted to look after increasing amounts of people's personal data.

The privacy campaign group's Safe in Police Hands? report details UK police force data breaches from June 2011 to December 2015, sourced from Freedom of Information requests.

More than 800 members of police staff accessed people's personal information "without a policing purpose", adding that data was "inappropriately shared" with third parties 877 times.

However, police took no disciplinary action in 55 per cent of all breaches, Big Brother Watch found, and just 11 per cent ended in a verbal or written warning.

The data led Big Brother Watch to question whether police should have access to people's Internet Connection Records (ICRs), records of websites people visit, as proposed by the Investigatory Powers Bill.

Internet service providers would have to hold onto people's ICRs for up to a year, and decrypt it if law enforcement agencies request it.

But Big Brother Watch argued the ICR proposal should be removed from the bill, writing: "Police forces are already struggling to keep the personal information they can access secure. It is clear that the addition of yet more data may just lead to the risk of a data breach or of misuse."

The report added: "The power to collect, store and for the police to subsequently seek a warrant to access our online activity would create another vulnerability to our personal data and personal lives. The failure of the Government to demonstrate the need for the power means that there are no tangible benefits to set against the negative impact the power would have on our privacy."

Other recommendations made by the organisation included criminal records for those responsible for serious breaches, as well as the introduction of prison sentences, saying that existing penalties are not strong deterrants.

Police should also notify people whose data is leaked within 90 days of the breach being investigated, said Big Brother Watch.

West Midlands police force suffered by far the highest number of data breaches, at 488, with the next nearest being Surrey Police with 202.