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September 14th 2016

Civil Liberties

Police forces must take greater care to protect the privacy of those they serve

Police forces must take greater care to protect the privacy of those they serve

By Richard Beschizza, litigation assistant handling claims against the police.

By Richard Beschizza, litigation assistant handling claims against the police.

Under the Human Rights Act, everyone has the right to respect for their private and family lives, their home and their correspondence.

It is a law put in place to protect against unlawful intrusion into personal lives, but is one which worryingly appears to be increasingly overlooked by police forces in the UK as they go about their daily duties.

It is only to be expected that the police will hold sensitive information on many people across the country, information which would be unfair to divulge to others and could cause future prejudice against the individual. It is this information that the police have a duty to protect and respect.

However, recent cases of shocking breaches of the Data Protection and Human Rights act have been reported in the media, each appearing to centre around the police forces involved overlooking their duty to always protect the privacy of those they hold information on.

One case saw Greater Manchester Police pay £75,000 compensation to a domestic abuse victim after using a recording of a 999 call she made in a training session without her consent.

The woman had only permitted the force to use details of her case anonymously for training purposes, but later discovered her identity and medical history, as well as the recording of the tape, had been shared with others.

Given the sensitive nature of the case, it is fully understandable that the woman claimed to have suffered psychiatric harm as a result of such sensitive and personal details being made public, and it is shocking and hard to understand how such an oversight could have been made by the force.

In another recent case, a former Met Police officer successfully made a breach of human rights and misuse of private information case against the force for wrongly using its powers to investigate her when she was on sick leave.

Ex-Detective Constable Andrea Brown was probed after going on holiday with her daughter while on sick leave, with the force being found to have used powers designed to investigate crimes to obtain personal data on her.

Airline Virgin Atlantic were even approached to obtain details of Ms Brown’s air travel, even though she had committed no offence.

Ms Brown sued the Met Police and Greater Manchester Police for breach of data protection, human rights, and misuse of personal information, with both forces admitting breaching the Data Protection Act and Ms Brown’s right to respect for her family and private life.

In times when we are all increasingly subjected to information gathering, and when many organisations collate information on individuals in almost every aspect of live, much greater responsibility is falling on those who hold sensitive and private details to ensure they remain confidential.

Think of each and every time you visit a website and enter your details for a transaction, or the number of times your personal information is requested as you go about your day to day life, and you’ll immediately understand how a profile of your life, habits and movements are being left behind, and in the hands of others.

Going back to the Human Rights Act on which I started this blog with, it is important to remember that only when there are concerns over national security, public safety, the prevention of crime or protection of the rights and freedoms of others can that privacy protection be breached.

Too often, that is being forgotten, or ignored.

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