Police forces request access to 26,000 private communications in past two years

Police requests to access personal communications hit 26,000 across Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk last

Police requests to access personal communications hit 26,000 across Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk last year. Stock image. - Credit: Getty Images/Ron Chapple Studios

Essex Police has claimed the way it uses communications data is “firm and robust” after new figures revealed they requested to access private emails and phone records nearly 20,000 times over two years.

A report released by privacy campaigners revealed that UK officers requested data every two minutes, gaining access in 93% of cases.

In Essex, the force made 19,541 requests for text, email, phone call or web search data between 2012-2014.

Of those requests a total of 28% were refused internally – the highest of any force in the country.

Over the same time period Suffolk and Norfolk forces, whose figures were combined in the report, made 6,593 requests for communications data with almost 98% being approved internally. Big Brother Watch, which compiled the report, said the findings highlighted a disparity between forces and demanded that forces should be required to publish transparency reports detailing how requests are approved, the number of individuals affected and the type of crime the data is used for.

Renate Samson, chief executive of Big Brother Watch, said: “We are repeatedly told communications data plays a significant role in modern policing, yet the report’s findings pose serious questions about the internal approval process which differs from force to force.

“If greater access to our communications is to be granted, increased transparency and independent judicial approval should be introduced as standard.

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“Until these safeguards exist, the public will have little confidence that the powers to access their communications are being used only when it is truly necessary and proportionate.”

A spokesman for Essex Police said the force believed the figures published showed processes to be “just and robust”.

He added: “Modern policing means using modern methods to catch criminals and stop crime.

“Essex Police uses communications data as part of our work to investigate and solve serious and organised crime, combat terrorism and help to safely find vulnerable missing people.

“We operate to the law passed by Parliament and there are strict rules we must follow in making applications for communications data.

“The approval process is handled by specially trained staff before requests are granted and there is also independent oversight of our applications by the Interception of Communications Commissioner’s Office (IoCCO).”

Suffolk Constabulary was yesterday unable to comment on the figures.

However a spokesman said the force backed the IoCCO response to the report, drawing attention to transparency and the “structured regime that all police forces must follow to acquire communications data”.