New guidance on extracting data from electronic devices to be introduced

The College of Policing is to introduce new guidance on extracting data from the electronic devices of victims, witnesses and suspects in an investigation.

It has just finished a period of consultation in which asked for view from officers, staff, and the public with formal guidance to follow shortly.

Its aim is to ensure police investigations effectively balance the need to follow all reasonable lines of enquiry, guaranteeing a fair trial with the need to respect the privacy of people.

The guidance is intended to provide a clear summary of the powers and obligations which police have under the Data Protection Act 2018 and how that should be used with other relevant legislation.

Principles

It will provide investigators with a set of principles to apply when they obtain personal digital devices, most often mobile phones, from victims, witnesses and suspects for an investigation and when they extract the digital data from those devices.

It is also intended to help the public understand the responsibilities of the police to gather evidence, including acquiring devices and the data held on them, as well as emphasise the importance of the criminal justice system to maintaining a fair and just society.

The draft guidance has been developed following a 2020 report from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), which recommended the creation of a better set of rules about when, why and how the police and other law enforcement agencies could use mobile phone extraction.

It is crucial that police investigators balance the need to follow all reasonable lines of enquiry to conduct a fair and independent investigation, with the need to respect the privacy of individuals.

Complex

David Tucker, Crime Lead for the College of Policing explained: “This is an extremely complex issue, with police often having to review huge volumes of data, but it is vital officers only view information which is strictly necessary for the investigation and victims and witnesses understand the process and give fully informed permission.”

He acknowledged that there have been concerns from privacy groups and campaigners about the volume of data being extracted and the impact this intrusion could have on victims, particularly in cases involving allegations of serious sexual assault.

“We are determined to work with all parties to get this right and that is why we are asking people to give us their views so we can shape guidance which delivers fair and just criminal justice outcomes for everyone.”

To view a full set of the draft principles go to: https://paas-s3-broker-prod-lon-6453d964-1d1a-432a-9260-5e0ba7d2fc51.s3.eu-west-2.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/2020-12/APP-extraction-data-from-personal-devices.pdf

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