Privacy watchdog acts on police database

By Ian Dunt

The privacy commissioner has demanded chief constables justify the existence of a secret database on protestors.

The news follows revelations in yesterday’s Guardian newspaper that police maintained a secret nationwide database of those monitoring people attending demonstrations.

Police said they were assessing whether people were “domestic extremists”, but opponents say the term has no legal definition or strict meaning.

David Smith, deputy information commissioner, said: “We will raise this issue with Acpo and seek further information from them about the personal information the police are collecting.

“We do have genuine concerns about the ever increasing amounts of information that law enforcement bodies are retaining.

“Organisations must only collect people’s personal information for a proper purpose. We will need to talk to Aco to understand why they consider it is necessary to hold lawful protesters’ details in this way, before considering whether this meets the terms of the Data Protection Act.”

Mr Smith urged those who believe they may be on the database to act.

“Individuals have the right to request information that is held about them and can challenge organisations about whether, and for how long, the data should be retained,” he said.

“Anyone who has reason to believe that their personal details are being retained unlawfully can complain to us at the Information Commissioner’s Office.”

The issue of police photography at demonstrations – a relatively new development – has been a controversial one, with many protestors claiming it treats them like criminals simply because they exercise their right to demonstrate.

The Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) is understood to be responsible for running the three units monitoring “domestic extremists”, which includes animal rights extremists.

Of these, the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU) is responsible for the database. It collates information from police forces round the country and functions as a database.

Anton Setchell, national co-ordinator on domestic extremism for Acop, said: “Coordinating and sharing information across the service is an essential part of policing. We welcome any advice the information cCommissioner may have.

“Information held is completely compliant with the management of police information statutory code of practice.”