This is the blog of British investigative journalist Jason Lewis.
It features articles from my time as Investigations Editor of the Sunday Telegraph and Whitehall and Security Editor of the Mail on Sunday.
I specialise in writing on intelligence and security matters, human and civil rights and the activities of the British State.
Wednesday, 24 August 2011
Police National Computer
Hundreds of police officers caught illegally accessing criminal records computer
More than 200 police officers and support staff in Britain's biggest force have been caught accessing the highly sensitive Police National Computer for their own ends.
The PNC national computer system enables the search of the names database to identify suspects including physical descriptions and personal featuresPhoto: GETTY
Half of the offences uncovered, including some accused of passing information to criminals, took place in the last three years - suggesting the abuse of the system is on the increase.
The figures show 84 police officers have been disciplined for illegal use of the database, which contains information on millions of people, their property and the movements of vehicles across the country in the last 36 months.
A further 22 staff have also been caught wrongly accessing information in the same period.
The revelation comes after a police officer was arrested in relation to leaks during the Scotland Yard phone-hacking investigation. The 51-year-old detective constable was arrested at work on Thursday. He has been suspended.
The Metropolitan Police has disclosed that 142 police officers and 66 staff have been disciplined for misusing the national computer system, known as the PNC, in the last 10 years.
Of these 29 have been sacked and 16 prosecuted over their actions.
The computer system contains five highly sensitive database:
* QUEST (Querying Using Enhanced Search Techniques) - enables the search of the names database to identify suspects including physical descriptions and personal features.
* VODS (Vehicle Online Descriptive Search) - allows users to search the vehicles database using registration numbers, postcodes and colour details to narrow the list to potential suspect vehicles.
* ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Recognition) - a nationwide network of cameras which takes a visual image of number plate of vehicle moving around the country, alerting police to any that are of interest.
* Property - the PNC can search for items which are lost and found
* CRIMELINK - An enhanced, web-based version of the Comparative Case Analysis Tool which can be used to solve serious serial-type crimes by searching for similarities in incidents helping investigators to identify patterns and links.
Figures on wider abuses of police computer systems released last year revealed that 400 police staff had been disciplined for similar offences across the UK.
And a survey of senior police officers found most believed abuse of police systems occurred 'frequently' and called for greater audit and controls on police computer resources.
In 2009 a West Midlands police officer, Mark Turner, was jailed for 12 months after it was revealed he had passed force records on to known criminals.
In 2005 a former detective turned freelance journalist John Ross was acquitted by a jury at Inner London Crown Court of "aiding and abetting wilful misconduct in public office".
Mr Ross, a former Flying Squad detective sergeant dismissed from the force following corruption allegations, had handed over £200 to detective constable David Dougall for a package of documents which allegedly included details of anti-terror operations. Mr Ross successfully argued the cash was a loan.
DC Dougall had handed Mr Ross printouts from a police website which disclosed the details of two anti-terror operations which the court heard could have compromised intelligence sources and police methodology.
Releasing the new figures following a Freedom of Information request, the Metropolitan Police said: "The Metropolitan Police Service takes any allegations of wrong doing by officers or staff very seriously.
"Where appropriate, allegations of criminal behaviour or misconduct are investigated thoroughly by officers from the Directorate of Professional Standards.
"Investigations may also be managed or carried out independently by the Independent Police Complaints Commission.
"All Metropolitan Police police officers and police staff are expected to adhere to the MPS Information Code of Conduct which sets out the policy on the use of MPS Information and information communication and technology systems."