Chris Marshall: Examine Police Scotland’s data

Sir Stephen House was forced to admit Police Scotland errors with data. Picture: Ian Georgeson

Sir Stephen House was forced to admit Police Scotland errors with data. Picture: Ian Georgeson

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IN THE discussion of policing matters, the word “database” does not usually feature too heavily. But in recent weeks both the Scottish Government and Police Scotland have found themselves embroiled in controversy over the collection and retention of data.

First, Scotland’s single police force had to admit to a series of errors in the way information was gathered on children for its stop and search database.

Its woes were further compounded when senior officers told MSPs around 20,000 records were lost from the database when an IT operative pressed the “wrong button”.

Then there were the Scottish Government’s plans to update the National Health Service Central Register, which the Information Commissioner’s office said could lead to “the creeping use of unique identifiers to the extent that they could become the national identity number by default”.

The government said its plans would help in collating population statistics as well as making it easier for agencies to share information about missing children. But critics have said the proposals will lead to the creation of a “national ID database”.

One such which is already in existence is the UK-wide Police National Database, which is thought to have mugshots of around 18 million people on it, many of whom have never been charged or convicted of a crime.

Police Scotland last week admitted adding images to the database on a “daily basis”, but only of those charged with an offence.

Then there is the issue of the 11,000 applications for communications data Police Scotland made under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act in 2014.

The legislation allows the authorities to ask for the “who”, “when” and “where” of phone or e-mail communication, but not its content.

Yesterday, Holyrood Magazine reported that official statistics on incidents recorded by the police, including domestic abuse, could be delayed by six months due to IT difficulties.

Figures on drug seizures and recorded crimes and offences involving firearms, both of which were scheduled for release next month, have also been affected, the magazine reported.

It all paints a worrying picture about the amount of data Police Scotland holds and how well it is looking after that data.

Tomorrow MSPs on Holyrood’s justice sub committee on policing will question senior officers once more on armed policing tactics. Those MSPs would do well to put a further meeting in the diary to discuss police access to data and the use of that data.

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