ICO investigates police over possible ‘excessive use’ of rape victims’ personal data

Watchdog to work with law enforcement, lawyers, and victim groups

The Information Commissioner’s Office has launched an investigation into potential “excessive use” of the personal data of victims of rape and serious sexual assault.

In recent months, the regulator has received complaints from “multiple victims’ representatives and victim support campaigns” about how data has been handled by police and prosecutors. One of the main issues raised relates to so-called ‘Stafford statements’ – a consent process that investigators rely on in the immediate aftermath of an allegation, according to the ICO.

In a blog post, deputy commissioner James Dipple-Johnstone said: “A Stafford statement can give wide-ranging, blanket consent for police to access detailed and sensitive information, including copies of a victim’s medical, education, psychiatric, social service and family court proceedings records. These records can date from many years prior to the incident under investigation.”

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He added: “But these statements are often signed in the immediate aftermath and shock of the crime, and, we are told, victims can often be unclear as to what they are consenting to and why.”

During its investigation, the ICO “will be working closely with police forces, prosecuting authorities, victims and their representatives and other stakeholders across the UK”. 

The watchdog will track the typical journey of victims’ data, from the time an offence is first reported, through the criminal proceedings, and onto any post-conviction compensation claims. Investigators will be looking “to identify areas where victims’ information is most vulnerable or where processing may be excessive and disproportionate”, Dipple-Johnstone said.

The ICO’s findings and any resulting recommendations will be reported once the investigation has concluded.

The deputy commissioner said: “Ultimately, victims need to be supported and to have confidence that they can give their evidence and information in the knowledge it will be safeguarded, used appropriately and with minimal intrusion into their privacy.”

Sam Trendall

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