CWJ Press statement: New police policy on disclosure of personal data will deter rape complaints

A response to the announcement by the NPCC that they are to roll out new standardised disclosure consent forms

The Centre for Women’s Justice are preparing a legal challenge of the new policy documents launched on Monday by the National Police Chiefs Council introducing a standardised consent form for victims and witnesses in relation to the extraction of their digital device data.

Our legal work together with Rape Crisis nationally and other front line organisations has led to serious concerns  about excessive disclosure requests being made of women reporting rape and sexual assault.  This is clearly having a deterrent effect on the reporting of rape allegations with some women dropping out because they don’t want police and defence legal teams trawling through their intimate and personal histories.

 Olivia, who recently reported rape to the police, said “The data on my phone stretches back 7 years and the police want to download it and keep it on file for a century.

 My phone documents many of the most personal moments in my life and the thought of strangers combing through it, to try to use it against me, makes me feel like I’m being violated once again”

 Whilst the standardised consent forms that are being rolled out will bring consistency to the practices of different police forces across the country, the approach taken, we believe is unlawful for a number of reasons.

 Firstly, it is clear that these consent forms are going to primarily apply to victims of rape, sexual assault and domestic abuse, rather than other criminal offences.  Thus those impacted are very predominantly women.  It is not clear that the NPCC have complied with the Public Sector Equality Duty and we will seek to argue that the policy discriminates on the basis of sex.

Secondly, the new policy, we believe also violates provisions of the Data Protection Act 2018 and Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, (namely the right to privacy).  We consider that the proposed processing of personal data entails a very significant interference of the right to privacy, in circumstances where there are insufficient safeguards or any independent authorisation process.

We are working together with Big Brother Watch in relation to this challenge and it is anticipated that the claim will be brought by two or more individual women who have been told by police that if they don’t cooperate with requests for their personal data then it is likely their cases will collapse.

CWJ together with a number of other organisations have input into a separate Information Commissioner’s investigation into the excessive use of victims’ personal information in cases of rape and serious sexual assault.  The investigation is ongoing and it surprising that the NPCC are not awaiting the outcome of this investigation.

Harriet Wistrich, director of CWJ, said, “it is now routine for any rape complainant to be asked to provide their mobile phone data when reporting a crime.  Given the amount of personal and often very intimate data stored on such devices, particularly by young women, it is not surprising that many victims who are reporting a deeply violating offence do not wish to be further exposed.  Most complainants fully understand why disclosure of communications with the defendant is fair and reasonable, but what is not clear is why their past history (including any past sexual history) should be up for grabs.  We seem to be going back to the bad old days when victims of rape are being treated as suspects.”