The UK Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has issued a report on police practices regarding extraction of data from people’s phones, including phones belonging to the victims of crime.
The report, which is the result of a 2018 complaint made by Privacy International (PI), highlights numerous risks and failures by the police in terms of data protection and privacy rights.
Elizabeth Denham, information commissioner, stated in the report: “This report explains how current mobile phone extraction practices and rules risk negatively affecting public confidence in our criminal justice system.
“I am therefore calling on government to introduce modern rules, through a code of practice that improves data extraction practices. This will build public confidence, notably the confidence of victims of crime and witnesses in permitting extraction of their sensitive personal data. It will also better support police and prosecutors in their vital work.”
Other key points in the report state that police should not seize phones merely to go on ‘fishing’ expeditions, but must focus any extraction on clear lines of enquiry and that current police practices regarding extracting data, especially from victims and witnesses, must be reformed.
Dr Ksenia Bakina, PI’s legal officer said: “Today’s critical report by the ICO vindicates what PI has been saying for over two years. The Police are taking data from people’s phones, including the victims of crime, without applying proper safeguards. This has to stop.
Currently, there is no clear policy guidance or independent, effective oversight for the police’s use of MPE technology, Bakina added.
“Considering the extensive use of mobile phones in our everyday lives, and the significant amount of sensitive personal data stored on them, the public need to know that there are rules and safeguards in place – otherwise the police are left to make up their own rules.
“The ICO’s report is a welcome step in the right direction. However, it is just a first step. We need to ensure that the report is a wakeup call that the police finally heed.”