Police made 700,000 data requests over three-year period


British police forces submitted 733,237 requests to view communications data over three years, with only four per cent refused, according to a newly published report by the Big Brother Watch.

Although communications requests don't reveal precise content of personal texts, emails, phone calls and web searches, they do reveal information about when they were made, to whom and from where, giving police insights into anyone's activity, whether it will aid an investigation or not. Anyone seeking data must first of all ask its own force if a request is allowed before approaching the provider of the data - such as a mobile phone network or ISP.

The Metropolitan Police made almost a quarter of these requests. West Midlands Police made the second highest number of requests with 13 per cent of the 733,237. Essex Police refused the highest proportion requests with 28 per cent denied and the Met refused almost 33,000, which represented 18 per cent of its total requests.

A Home Office spokesperson told the BBC: "It is absolutely vital that our police and security services are able to obtain communications data in certain, limited circumstances, to protect the public and ensure national security

"This information helps to disrupt terrorist plots, smash criminal networks and keep us safe and it is a government priority to ensure our legislation is updated to deal with changing threats and evolving technologies."

Big Brother Watch said: "It is clear from the reports' findings that disparity exists amongst police forces on what is considered necessary and proportionate for a request for Communications Data and why a refusal for access is given.

"If law enforcement persists with calls for greater access, internal procedures will need to be clarified, transparency about the process published and independent judicial approval brought in as part of the authorisation process."

Clare Hopping
Freelance writer

Clare is the founder of Blue Cactus Digital, a digital marketing company that helps ethical and sustainability-focused businesses grow their customer base.

Prior to becoming a marketer, Clare was a journalist, working at a range of mobile device-focused outlets including Know Your Mobile before moving into freelance life.

As a freelance writer, she drew on her expertise in mobility to write features and guides for ITPro, as well as regularly writing news stories on a wide range of topics.