New ICO Report says consent from rape victims "too difficult" as basis for phone downloads

Report shows hundreds of rape victims potentially had phone data unlawfully extracted by police. Women's Organisations disappointed at limited scope of ICO report that ignores concerns of rape victims

The Information Commissioner’s Office report ‘Mobile phone data extraction by police forces in England and Wales’ released today (18.06.20).

The report finds that “police data extraction practices vary across the country, with excessive amounts of personal data often being extracted, stored, and made available to others, without an appropriate basis in existing data protection law.

Sarah Green, Director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition says:

“We’ve waited a long time for this report and are disappointed at the contents. It looks at the legalities of victims’ mobile phones being downloaded and used as evidence in criminal cases but seems to deliberately sidestep the fact this overwhelmingly occurs in rape cases, a crime type which has very specific justice challenges.

“By saying consent is “too difficult” to have as a basis for downloading victims’ mobile phones it’s effectively giving police the green light to undertake mass data downloads and personal invasion, merely with better forms. Too often we have heard rape victims say that they have felt like the one being investigated, and this report provides no clear basis that this will change.

“There is little consideration for a rape victims’ privacy, and the impact of such an intrusion. Nor does the report go near specific issues that arise in rape cases – the way personal information can be used to feed myths and prejudices around sexual history, sexual character and what a ‘real’ victim would or would not do. There is a special (and tone deaf) irony in setting out that consent may not be withdrawn after permission is given to inspect a device.

“The Information Commissioner is recommending a system which treats those reporting rape as collateral in a prosecution. The fine words about encouraging victims to have faith and to come forward and report, which we hear too often from justice system leaders, are meaningless if there is no determination to build a system that actually works for victims and survivors of sexual offences.

“Given the report orders the current forms used by the police to be withdrawn (forms which triggered significant concerns about when introduced) it raises questions around the potential unlawfulness of how the police have demanded and taken data from hundreds of rape victims across the last 15 months.

“Lawyers have already mounted credible cases around disclosure in rape cases based on practices that discriminate against women and violate human rights protections. These challenges are set to continue if we do not reach a way of doing things here which is respectful of rape victims’ as well as defendants’ rights.”

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