Police databases: how over 900 staff abuse their access

For the first time, Big Brother Watch has uncovered the true extent to which Police abuse their access to confidential databases. 

This report follows allegations yesterday that former Downing Street Head of Communications Andy Coulson paid the Police in order to receive privileged information.

Between 2007 and 2010:

  • 243 Police officers and staff received criminal convictions for breaching the Data Protection Act (DPA).
  • 98 Police officers and staff had their employment terminated for breaching the DPA.
  • 904 Police officers and staff were subjected to internal disciplinary procedures for breaching the DPA.

A full breakdown of results by local police authority can be found here.

Commenting on the research findings Daniel Hamilton, Director of Big Brother Watch said:

“The allegations surrounding Andy Coulson are just the tip of the iceberg.

“It’s astonishing to think that 904 Police officers and support staff across England have faced disciplinary action for abusing their access to confidential systems. 243 have received criminal convictions for their actions, while 98 have lost their jobs.

“Our investigation shows that not only have Police employees been found to have run background records checks on friends and possible partners, but some have been convicted for passing sensitive information to criminal gangs and drug dealers.  This is at best hugely intrusive and, at worse, downright dangerous.

“Police forces must adopt a zero tolerance approach to this kind of behaviour.  Those found guilty of abusing their position should be sacked on the spot.”

Key examples

  • In Merseyside alone, 208 officers and Police staff received criminal convictions for breaching the DPA since 2007.
  • The areas with the largest number of officers and Police staff who had their employment terminated for DPA breaches since 2007 were: Kent (10), Merseyside (7), West Midlands (7), Northumbria (6), Derbyshire (5) and Humberside (5).
  • The areas with the largest number of officers and Police staff subjected to internal disciplinary procedures for DPA breaches since 2007 were: Merseyside (208), West Midlands (83), Humberside (62), South Yorkshire (42), and Northumbria (39).

Media Contact

For broadcast interviews or further enquiries, please contact:

Daniel Hamilton
Director, Big Brother Watch
07810 785 924
020 7340 6030

Posted by on Jul 7, 2011 in Databases | 8 Comments


  1. G
    7th July 2011

    This is why I am never reassured when I am told by an organisation that it is okay – the staff have all signed a confidentiality agreement and so on.
    This is terrible evidence of the people in this country that we are supposed to be able to trust. Clearly training and supervision of staff are not what they should be. What a waste of public money in training police officers only to have them sacked because they cannot be trusted not to abuse their access to the data of others – what a sad world we live in.

  2. John Name
    7th July 2011

    Police abuse of databases? I draw your attention to the final paragraph of the following copy & paste from a related post:-
    5 July. In my local minimarket this morning, I noticed that a number of copies of the Times and the Sun were on sale. When I drew this lamentable state of affairs to the manageress’s attention, she immediately removed the offending items from sale. I hope and trust that other newspaper retailers are following her cue, and that pubs, bars and the general public are cancelling their Sky subscriptions.
    6 July. Unfortunately, events in the minimarket took a somewhat different turn this morning. The Times & Sun were on sale again, but the staff refused to remove them. I picked up a copy of the Times and tore it in half, and was immediately bundled into the back office to await the police. When they arrived, they suggested the option of Restorative Justice, which involves apologizing. However, as I pointed out, YOU DO NOT APOLOGISE FOR DOING THE RIGHT THING. So they handcuffed me, drove me down to the police station, and issued me with an £80 penalty notice which, as I made absolutely plain to them, I regard as a source of considerable pride.
    7 July The saga continues. I left my mobile at home yesterday. When I got home, there was a message on it from the policewoman, asking me to call her. I want to know how she obtained my mobile number. I didn’t give it to her, and it’s payg. So about 20 minutes ago, i tried to ring her. When she calls back, i am going to order her to tell me exactly where she got my number from. Anyone got any ideas as to how she might have managed this?

  3. John Name
    8th July 2011

    I don’t want to get carried away about this. It’s possible there’s an innocent explanation. Maybe something has happened to someone who has my number, and the police are trying to get in touch with their contacts, and the policewoman who dealt with me has coincidentally been assigned the job of contacting me. I don’t know if that or some other explanation is at all likely. And until this issue is resolved, I’m in epistemic limbo about something which feels just a little bit creepy.

  4. G
    8th July 2011

    @ John Name
    Do you pay your PAYG phone by some recordable means eg credit or debit card? If you pay by cash and have not provided your details to the phone company then as you say it is a little bit creepy.

  5. John Name
    11th July 2011

    I do indeed normally pay with a credit/debit card, but have withheld my details from the phone company. I must say, I’m struggling to see how this diminishes the creep factor. By the way, she still hasn’t rung back to tell me how she got my phone number.

  6. Martin Rees
    12th July 2011

    I suppose they’re all the “one rotten apple” in the otherwise good barrels of apples, then?

  7. Mobilespy
    6th December 2011

    there are legal softwares to spy on mobile phones what do you think about this?? 

  8. Pete
    1st June 2012

    These police officers are totally out of control, members of the public have their careers destroyed by false/unproven allegations…I know for a fact UK police officers do not have Criminal Records Bureau checks, yet police get suspended and on full pay while investigations are ongoing. It’s about time people stand united to fight this corrupt system they call justice…!