Ever called the police? You could be on file.

If you’re keeping abreast of the various developments in the erosion of our civil liberties, you’ll probably be aware that one of the most common justifications for violating them is for the purposes of preventing crime. So, police forces claim that they need to track every car on the road in order to pick out the few that have been stolen; the government protests that placing our health and privacy at risk by demanding that we submit to full body scanning is making us safer from terrorism.

The spurious nature of all these justifications is demonstrated clearly by the revelation in yesterday’s Independent that numerous police forces are storing information regarding people who simply call them and request assistance.

What possible purpose is served by collating this kind of information (sometimes including date of birth and ethnicity) from people who are seeking to use the service the police are paid to provide? It turns everyone who makes contact with them from a member of the public into a potential suspect. As Gus Hosein, of Privacy International, opines: “until now, this has only happened in non-democratic states, but I fear this line has been crossed in ours.”

There’s no indication that people are specifically made aware that the data they provide is being kept, and apparently no limit on the length of time for which data can be retained. Officers in the West Midlands have amassed more than 1.1 million records over the course of 12 years.

Furthermore, senior officers admit that “the information could be used against people as part of any future police investigation.” In short, whenever you call the police, to report a crime, provide information or for any other purpose, you risk having the details you give being logged and used against you.

As Daniel Hamilton of Big Brother Watch says:

The public must be confident that, when they report a crime, they do so in the comfort of anonymity and without risk of their details being stored on a central police database which can be accessed by thousands of people. This information must be deleted before public confidence in the police takes yet another hit.

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