Investigation finds gang matrix ‘breached data protection laws’

Katherine Johnston (16 November, 2018) Crime

'Clear and rigorous oversight and governance is essential'

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The Met’s controversial ‘gang matrix’ database of alleged gang members has led to ‘multiple and serious breaches of data protection laws’, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has found.

In a statement released today, the ICO said its investigation – which began in October last year after the charity Amnesty International raised concerns over the matrix’s use – found that ‘whilst there was valid purpose for the database, the inconsistent way it was being used did not comply with data protection rules’.

As the News has reported, the database and its impact on young people – especially black men – has led to widespread concerns from community groups and the Mayor’s office.

The ICO has now issued an enforcement notice to ensure the Met complies with data protection laws in future – police will have six months to fully implement the changes.

Deputy information commissioner of operations, James Dipple-Johnstone, said: “Protecting the public from violent crime is an important mission and we recognise the unique challenges with Metropolitan Police Service faces in tackling this.

“Our aim is not to prevent this vital work, nor are we saying that the use of a database in this context is not appropriate; we need to ensure that there are suitable policies and processes in place and that these are followed.

“Clear and rigorous oversight and governance is essential, so the personal data of people on the database is protected and the community can have confidence that their information is being used in an appropriate way.”

Every borough in London has their own database of suspected gang members and people at risk of gang-related violence, which form a London-wide database.

Names, dates of birth, addresses and information on repeated weapons carrying is stored and can be shared with other agencies including local authorities, education providers and even job centres.

The ICO found that the matrix does not clearly distinguish between the approach to victims of gang-related crime and the perpetrators, leading to confusion amongst those using it’, and that while some boroughs followed best practice, implementation was inconsistent with some areas ‘poor’ in comparison.

There were also ‘serious breaches’ of data protection law – mostly affecting young, black men who are disproportionately listed on the matrix.

The Met has been ordered to make clear what makes someone a ‘gang member’ and what intelligence is needed to demonstrate this, ensure data clearly identifies victims and perpetrators,  develop guidance on how information collected on social media is used as a ‘verifiable intelligence’ source, and make sure information is shared securely and proportionately with partners.

In a statement published today, the Met said it accepts the findings and is ‘working hard to address them’.

Its Deputy Assistant Commissioner, Duncan Ball said: “The Gangs Matrix is an intelligence tool that the Met uses to reduce the impact of gang violence on the communities of London.

“It is designed to assist us in effectively targeting violent offenders and prevent victimisation of those affected by serious crime.

“We will continue to use the Gangs Matrix in our work to bring safety to communities.

“We welcome the independent scrutiny of the Information Commissioner’s Office and accept the Enforcement Notice issued against the Met for Data Protection Act breaches with regard to the Gangs Matrix.

“We have already started work to ensure that we improve our data handling and information sharing with partners, who are also involved in community safety work.

“As well as addressing the concerns within the ICO report, we are also taking forward additional work including the introduction of a public facing website to explain the legal framework for the Gangs Matrix and further information to improve public confidence and transparency.

“We have a constructive relationship with the ICO and will continue to work with them as we go forward.”

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