NEWS & VIEWS
Information Commissioner Report
The Information Commissioner has released a report and opinion following an inquiry into the processing of victims’ personal data in rape and serious sexual offence investigations.
Third-party data requests have long been an issue for victims and survivors, with the police and CPS often requesting access to excessive amounts of data at the investigative stages. The ICO’s report highlights multiple examples where police and the CPS have asked for personal data far beyond the scope of the investigation, leaving victims and survivors feeling as if they are the ones on trial.
The report details that not only is there insufficient understanding from the police and CPS on how to request and manage personal data in a way that respects survivor’s rights to privacy, but also that the level of information requested is excessive, discriminative and in some cases, unlawful.
Furthermore, victims and survivors are being coerced into consenting to use of their personal data with the threat that if they do not give access to it, it will negatively impact their case. Rather than specifying data that is relevant to the case, police are taking shortcuts – asking for blanket consent to everything and then picking and choosing what might be relevant. This goes beyond a lack of understanding, it is an outright disregard for victim welfare in favour of an easier investigative route.
The impact this has on victims and survivors is immense, with many describing being in the criminal justice system as more traumatising than the assault itself.
Rape Crisis England & Wales welcome the Commissioner’s Opinion, recommendations and most importantly, the assurance that the ICO will take enforcement action if practices do not reach the standards outlined by the Commissioner.
- The National Police Chiefs’ Council must mandate to all police forces throughout the UK that they must cease using statements or forms indicating general consent to obtain third party materials (also known as Stafford statements).
- The National Police Chiefs’ Council should work with the College of Policing and the Crown Prosecution Service to produce advice and supporting forms for police forces to use across England and Wales when requesting personal information from third party organisations.
- The Commissioner makes further recommendations directly to the Chief Constables of forces across the UK, to ensure they are able to fully demonstrate compliance with data protection legislation when processing information relating to victims of rape and serious sexual offences (RASSO).
The removal of ‘Stafford statements’ will help to ensure victims and survivors aren’t being asked to give up more personal data than is necessary, whilst the push for a more standardised approach to data collection across police forces nationally will give officers a better understanding of appropriate and acceptable practices.
Calling on Chief Constables to take ownership of data protection policies adds a needed and welcome level of accountability.