Police have defended phone data use following abuse probe

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POLICE chiefs have defended their use of data from telephones and mobiles after a communications watchdog found two forces snooped more than 9,000 times last year.

Interception of Communications Commissioner Sir Anthony May’s report looks into public concerns into “potential intrusive invasion of privacy”.

It found that Durham Police tapped into the public’s communications data the most out of forces in the region, 6,218 times in 2013, while Cleveland Police accessed the data 2,957 times.

The total for police forces nationwide was 451,243, with a total of 514,608 requests for data made by police and other authorities, like councils.

Communications data includes the “who’”, “when” and “where” of a communication, but not the content.

In his report, Sir Anthony says the 514,608 figure “seems to me to be a very large number. It has the feel of being too many.”

He has asked his inspectors to examine the “constituents of this bulk” to see if there is an overuse of powers.

Durham’s Detective Superintendent Lee Johnson said police use proportionality, necessity and legality in assessing data use, adding: “Durham Constabulary takes the privacy of individuals seriously, and that is enshrined in the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Regulatory Investigatory Powers Act 2000. However, some individuals in society have no consideration of the rights of others and commit crime, and make use of phones to enable the commission of the crime, or be in possession of mobile telephones when they commit crime. When identifying the location of a missing person, a wanted person, or how a phone has been used in the commission of a crime, it is now an important investigative tool to make use of call data in locating someone, or proving their criminality.”

Cleveland Police Detective Superintendent Derek Carter said no breaches were found or criticism of use of powers arose from their inspection,

He added Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa) legislation is a vital asset in the prevention and detection of crime, but Ripa authority is “not entered into lightly with rigorous processes involved prior to it being granted”.

He added that recently Judge John Walford commended police in their use of Ripa which helped put a gang of car thieves behind bars for 50 years after relying on telephone, surveillance, eyewitness, tracker and number plate recognition evidence due to lack of forensic evidence.