Hostile environment

Why we’re no longer taking part in a consultation on the police’s new super-database

Posted by Hannah Couchman on 01 Oct 2018

The dangerous side effects of the Home Office’s new super-database will put our rights at risk. Here’s why Liberty cannot participate in a consultation that fails to recognise that threat.

A new policing super-database is in the works – and it puts our rights at serious risk. But the Home Office has failed to respond sufficiently to Liberty’s concerns. We can’t be part of a process that gives a free pass to the creeping expansion of digital policing that shows contempt for our privacy rights.

On 28 September, we wrote to the Home Office telling them we can no longer take part in their Open Space civil society consultation on the Law Enforcement Data Service (LEDS) – the Home Office’s planned police super-database.

The “Open Space” is the Home Office’s process for gathering feedback on the project from a range of organisations, including human rights and privacy groups.

LEDS will bring together the Police National Computer and Police National Database in one place.

This unprecedented development will see the Government amass deeply sensitive data for policing purposes.

It requires rigorous scrutiny and debate to make sure our personal information is protected, with robust safeguards to protect us from threats to our privacy and other fundamental rights.

The Home Office has made clear to us that the Open Space consultation will exclude discussion of our key concerns with the plan.

The information on the database will be vulnerable in many ways – and the Home Office’s plans fail to explain how police will use the system in conjunction with the creeping progression of surveillance and algorithmic policing.

The proposed system doesn’t have an agreed retention policy and the police have even admitted that data they no longer have any right to hold will be transferred to the new database.

The plans even allow our data to be shared with non-policing organisations where a “business case” can be made.

And the Home Office has excluded from its consultation process any consideration of how the database will be linked with lawless facial recognition technology.

LEDS cannot be considered in a vacuum. This derisory consultation continues the pattern of police adding to their powers to use invasive technology without giving any regard to proper scrutiny and accountability – or the effect on our rights.

LEDS is part of a dangerous pattern of data-driven policing. There is the potential for it to connect with other databases, including immigration records.

Police forces are increasingly looking to “big data” to assist with law enforcement. Having enormous amounts of our personal information held in one place is a significant violation of our privacy.

While the collection of a few pieces of data can seem innocuous, combining it with other sensitive information can let the state build up a detailed and extremely intrusive personal profile on each of us.

Even more sinister are the algorithms the state is increasingly using to make important decisions about us – leading to conclusions which may be inaccurate or biased and lack proper human oversight.

We must question how super-databases like this will be linked with lawless surveillance technologies or biased algorithmic programs that make predictions about who is likely to commit crime.

We will continue to support other civil society organisations participating in the consultation process – and call on the Home Office to take seriously the serious privacy concerns we have highlighted.

In the UK, we have a long-held principle of policing by consent. We must be able to trust the police to protect our privacy and our fundamental rights.

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