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ICO investigates use of personal data in sexual assault cases


Mark Say Managing Editor

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The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is running an investigation into the use of the personal data of sexual assault victims in the criminal justice system.

James Dipple-Johnstone, deputy commissioner for operations at the ICO, has outlined the investigation in a blogpost, saying it is working on the investigation with police forces, prosecuting authorities, victims and their representatives.

It has revealed the plan amidst a controversy over the police seeking access to the mobile phone data of rape victims.

Dipple-Johnston says the focus of the ICO investigation is to ensure the law is being followed and to offer advice on possible improvements.

It reflects concerns over the process by which victims of alleged sexual offences sign a ‘Stafford statement’ to consent to police and prosecuting authorities gaining access to their personal information.

This gives the police the ability to look at records including medical and psychiatric data going back many years; but the statements are often signed soon after a crime when the victims are in a state of shock and struggle to understand the implications.

There have been complaints to the ICO from victims’ representatives and support campaigns with details of potential excessive use of personal information.

Complex and challenging

“This is a complex and challenging area and involves some of the most sensitive personal data gathered by the state,” Dipple-Johnston says. “The principle and basis of consent in these circumstances is a key element of our investigation.

He adds that the ICO will make its findings public once the investigation has been concluded.

The argument over mobile phone data has become public after campaign organisation the Centre for Women's Justice (CWJ) condemned police forces for making “excessive disclosure requests.

It said the practice is acting as a deterrent to reporting rapes and that a legal claim is expected to be brought soon.

Image from iStock Mihai Simonia

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