Police data practices need to change: LEDS is a start

A new information management system is being developed to replace the maligned and dated Police National Computer and Police National Database. The new system, known as the Law Enforcement Data Service (LEDS), is set to create a more accountable framework for managing police information and promoting fairness in the management of police information. This includes ensuring the system will actually respond to long established case law in the UK for deleting records and better safeguarding the right to privacy.

On Wednesday 10 June, the Code of Practice for the Law Enforcement Data Service was released by the Royal College of Policing, along with a number of public consultation documents.

The LEDS system has been developed by the National Law Enforcement Data Programme (NLEDP) in the Home Office. Open Rights Group (ORG) has been a part of a group of organisations working within a process, facilitated by the organisation Involve, that regularly met with the Home Office team. The Open Space exists as a place where civil society and the NLEDP can meet to discuss issues. Discussions included, among other things:

– custody image policy,

– retention and deletion processes,

– levels of access and control

– data sharing

– data quality

ORG has found the space and those involved to be thoughtful, open to challenge, and ready for a dialogue. There is still work to be done on the Code of Practice to make sure that it meets the standards and it should be remembered that these are codes, the truly important parts are seeing these guidelines become rules and practices for all police forces across the United Kingdom. LEDS and the Open Space process is nonetheless an encouraging process.

From retention by default to deletion by default

One area ORG was keen to focus on was the retention of custody images. A judgement from 2012 found the retention standards in place created “a risk of stigmatisation”. That risk has only increased with the use of facial recognition technology by the police forces, Metropolitan Police and South Wales Police.

However in 2018, 7 years after that High Court judgement the Science and Technology Committee heard from the Government that it would be “too expensive and complex” to sift through the nearly 20 million images to comply with the High Court judgement and would require a reform of the Police National Database and the 43 local forces.

LEDS and the NLEDP is part of that reform. The Home Office confirmed a change in culture in this process, from a culture of retention by default, to deletion by default. As part of the reform to PND to LEDS there is a process of deletion of images that do not correspond to the standards set out by the High Court in the 2012 judgement in RMC.

This large scale deletion process was being scoped and organisations in the Open Space have emphasised the importance of ensuring the deletion of data, particularly of individuals not convicted of an offence, are carried out prior to the transfer from the PND to LEDS.

LEDS requires any entry in the system to be subject to the law, foregrounding review, retention, and disposal of data held on LEDS as a key part of the Code of Practice. We await in earnest the confirmation that this process is going ahead and that LEDS starts off with the data that is strictly necessary for fighting crime, and leaving behind the data the retention of which is unlawful.

Access control

LEDS will have a role for organisations beyond policing, such as the DVLA, Competition and Markets Authority, and the Royal Mail. Members had raised concerns that the LEDS development would create a super-database, making data previously unavailable to organisations without suitable controls in place to maintain the security of the data.

While ORG still hold concerns about the level of access, one dataset’s treatment is encouraging. DVLA data was a talking point for many in the room during the discussion, with organisations concerned that a database containing every registered driver and vehicle in the UK was about to be freely available for access for various organisations.

It has since been revealed that access to DVLA data when investigating relevant offences will occur via an API interface that will allow access to DVLA but no copying would be allowed, preserving the integrity of the information and reducing the risks of data loss and preventing copies and distributions which would make maintaining data quality, another key feature.

ORG is puzzled as to why just DVLA data has been treated this way and encouraged the Home Office team to seek out other datasets that could be treated in a similar way. However, the effort to establish such a function is welcome.

The LEDS code of practice consultation is open until 9 September 2020. ORG will provide a more substantive response to the consultation and encourage others to do so too.

This reform is one that is long overdue, and that fact is never far from ORG’s thoughts when engaging in these discussions. Also, we are conscious of the role we play in the Open Space process, but we have found that the changes made, the two above being just an example, have been worth the engagement.

Compared to other Home Office reform initiatives this has been a genuine attempt to move a large government computer programme in the right direction, the right way, and with positive outcomes for rights. ORG will continue to do its best to push the agenda for reforming policing information.

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