A detailed report just published by privacy and civil liberties campaigning organisation Big Brother Watch reveals that 93% of police forces extract digital evidence from connected devices, but alarmingly a substantial 71% of those forces refuse to provide data in terms of how often they do so or to what extent. 32 forces refused to answer Big Brother Watch Freedom of Information requests, in turn sparking concerns over their failure to follow their own good practice guidance on public transparency.
Based on the data received, the Big Brother Watch report entitled ‘Police Access to Digital Evidence’ also reveals what’s deemed to be “a patchy picture” of training in digital evidence gathering and data extraction, as well as inconsistencies in training budgets across UK police forces.
With connected devices and digital data now ubiquitous in our society, the impact on crime and policing is inevitable. However, the reactions of both the police service and the Government to this inevitability appear to be – in the eyes of Big Brother Watch – “far from adequate”.
According to the organisation: “The legislative framework is dated and complex. Training for police officers is patchy and funding inconsistent.”
In light of these findings, Big Brother Watch has made three key recommendations:
*Review of legislation
The legislative process for the extraction and interrogation of data from seized devices in relation to a criminal act needs urgent re-examination to ensure that it’s clear, concise and fit for modern policing
*Police must be transparent regarding digital evidence gathering
Police forces must adhere to good practice guidance on transparency. Records of the number of seized devices, the number of devices subject to data extraction and details regarding for how long data is held must be kept and made available for audit
*Training in digital evidence gathering for all officers
Improvements need to be made to the training of police officers in the handling, interrogation and retention of data extracted from devices. Any front line police officer whose role may involve the handling of digital evidence should be able to prove a high level of competence and understanding of the technical process and data protection
Jennifer Krueckeberg, researcher at Big Brother Watch, said: “Digital evidence is a critical part of modern day policing. However, the lack of transparency we’ve encountered has sparked serious concerns. If the police service wants to keep the public’s trust in their ability to face the challenges of a digital age, then they need to clearly show how they handle digital devices and extracted data.”
Krueckeberg concluded by informing Risk UK: “Police officers have to be continuously trained to deal with ever-evolving new technologies. It’s simply unacceptable that the police service has to operate on outdated guidance and 1980s legislation in order to fight crime in the 21st Century.”