An investigation by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) found that the Metropolitan Police Service’s (MPS) use of the Gangs Matrix led to multiple and serious breaches of data protection laws.

The investigation into the Gangs Matrix, a database that records intelligence related to alleged gang members, began in October 2017 after concerns were raised by Amnesty International.

The ICO found that, whilst there was a valid purpose for the database, the inconsistent way it was being used did not comply with data protection rules.

It has now issued an Enforcement Notice, compelling the MPS to ensure it complies with data protection laws in future and has given them six months to make these changes, which the MPS has accepted and already started to implement. 

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 the MPS 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.”

The MPS’ operating model governs the use of the matrix across the Metropolitan area. Each of the 32 London boroughs operate their own Matrix, which are then compiled centrally to form a larger London-wide Gangs Matrix. 

The personal data of people recorded on the Gangs Matrix includes; full names, dates of birth, home addresses, and information on whether someone is a prolific firearms offender or knife carrier.

The investigation found:

  • The Gangs Matrix does not clearly distinguish between the approach to victims of gang-related crime and the perpetrators, leading to confusion amongst those using it;
  • An operating model that was unclear and inconsistently applied across the boroughs, with some good practice in some areas but poor practice elsewhere;
  • Some boroughs operated informal lists of people who had been removed from the Gangs Matrix, meaning that the MPS continued to monitor people even when intelligence had shown that they were no longer active gang members;
  • Excessive processing of data as a result of blanket sharing with third parties that failed to distinguish between those on the Gangs Matrix assessed as high-risk and those as low risk, with the potential for disproportionate action to be taken against people no longer posing a risk;
  • Serious breaches of data protection laws with the potential to cause damage and distress to the disproportionate number of young, black men on the Matrix;
  • The absence of a Equality Impact Assessment that would enable MPS to show it had considered in this context the issues of discrimination or equality of opportunity;
  • An absence, over several years, of effective central governance, oversight or audit of data processed as part of the Gangs Matrix, resulting in risk of damage or distress to those on it;
  • The absence of information sharing agreements governing the purpose and use of the data by those third parties and insufficient guidance about how the third parties should handle and use the data. This led to the increased potential for an inconsistent approach and harm to data subjects. 

The MPS must now take steps to ensure the Gangs Matrix complies with data protection laws, which include:

  • Improving guidance to explain what constitutes a gang member and the intelligence required to demonstrate gang membership;
  • Ensuring people’s data on the Gangs Matrix is clearly identified, to distinguish between victims of crime and actual or suspected offenders;
  • Erasing any informal lists of people who no longer meet the Gangs Matrix criteria;
  • Developing guidance in relation to the use of social media as a source of ‘verifiable intelligence’;
  • Ensuring that any Gangs Matrix information shared with partner agencies is done so securely and proportionately; and
  • Conducting a Data Protection Impact Assessment of the Gangs Matrix.

The MPS already has an action plan underway and has stopped sharing personal data on the Gangs Matrix with third parties, where there is no individual sharing agreement in place. They have committed to being more open about the database and are working with us to complete a Data Protection Impact Assessment.

The Deputy Commissioner added,
“I am pleased that the MPS has been co-operating with us and has committed to bringing the Gangs Matrix in line with data protection laws, and we will continue to work with them.
“I believe that by taking these steps and demonstrating that people’s data rights matter to them, the MPS will be able to build increased trust amongst their communities.”
Due to the timing of the case, it was dealt with under the provisions of the Data Protection Act 1998, and not the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and 2018 Act that replaced it in May this year.
The ICO will also be launching a second investigation that focuses on how partners of the police handle information, such as that provided through the Gangs Matrix, and is already investigating a data breach at Newham Borough Council involving the Matrix.

If you need more information, please contact the ICO press office on 0303 123 9070, or visit the media section on our website.

Notes to Editors

  1. The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is the UK’s independent regulator for data protection and information rights law, upholding information rights in the public interest, promoting openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals.
  2. The ICO has specific responsibilities set out in the Data Protection Act 2018 (DPA2018), the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA), Environmental Information Regulations 2004 (EIR) and Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003 (PECR).
  3. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a new data protection law which applied in the UK from 25 May 2018. Its provisions are included in the Data Protection Act 2018. The Act also includes measures related to wider data protection reforms in areas not covered by the GDPR, such as law enforcement and security. The UK’s decision to leave the EU will not affect the commencement of the GDPR.
  4. However, due to the timing of certain incidents in this investigation, civil monetary penalties have to be issued under the previous legislation, the Data Protection Act 1998. The maximum financial penalty in civil cases under former laws is £500,000.
  5. Under past and current law, the ICO can take action to change the behaviour of organisations and individuals that collect, use and keep personal information. This includes criminal prosecution, non-criminal enforcement and audit.
  6. Since 25 May 2018, the ICO has the power to impose a civil monetary penalty (CMP) on a data controller of up to £17million (20m Euro) or 4% of global turnover.
  7. The GDPR and the DPA2018 gave the ICO new strengthened powers, some of which, such as assessment notices can be used for this investigation.
  8. The data protection principles in the GDPR evolved from the original DPA, and set out the main responsibilities for organisations. Article 5 of the GDPR requires that personal data shall be:
    • Processed lawfully, fairly and in a transparent manner in relation to individuals;
    • Collected for specified, explicit and legitimate purposes and not further processed in a manner that is incompatible with those purposes;
    • Adequate, relevant and limited to what is necessary in relation to the purposes for which they are processed;
    • Accurate and, where necessary, kept up to date;
    • Kept in a form which permits identification of data subjects for no longer than is necessary;
    • Processed using appropriate technical or organisational measures in a manner that ensures appropriate security of the personal data;
    • Article 5(2) requires that “the controller shall be responsible for, and be able to demonstrate, compliance with the principles”; and
    • Civil Monetary Penalties (CMPs) under past and current law are subject to a right of appeal to the (First-tier Tribunal) General Regulatory Chamber against the imposition of the monetary penalty and/or the amount of the penalty specified in the monetary penalty notice. 
  9. Any monetary penalty is paid into the Treasury’s Consolidated Fund and is not kept by ICO.
  10. To report a concern to the ICO go to ico.org.uk/make-a-complaint.