January 21, 2005
Data protection fines for police staff
Prosecutions for processing without consent
A special constable working for Dorset Police was fined £1000 for breaches of the Data Protection Act 1998 for using police databases to look up people she knew.
The special constable in question, Geraldine Tabor, worked at a petrol station. She suspected that two of her colleagues were stealing from the business and used the police criminal records database to run a check on their backgrounds. She was fined £500 in respect of each data protection offence as well as having to meet an order for costs of £500. She was told by Bournemouth Crown Court that but for her financial circumstances the fine would have been a lot higher.
Last year a computer operator at Gwent Police was fined £400 for using control centre computers to investigate her friends during an idle moment at work. The Data Protection Act prohibits knowingly or recklessly obtaining information containing personal data without the consent of the data controller.
Civil libertarians opposed to the national identity card scheme have voiced concerns about the scope for similar misuse of the proposed ID card register, which will hold a variety of personal data concentrated on one database. The Government argues that the requisite safeguards will be built in to the ID card regime.
The new home secretary, Charles Clarke, has said officials who secretly accessed information that they were not authorised to see would face up to two years in jail. The Identity Card Bill creates the new criminal offences of disclosure without lawful authority of information held on the National Identity Register and tampering with the register.
Special constables are not full-time police officers. They work on a voluntary basis and provide a miniumum of 4 hours weekly support to officers in their local areas. They are trained by local police forces.