Upholding information rights in the public interest is a priority for the Information Commissioner. Requests for personal data or for information are fundamental rights under both the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)/Data Protection Act 2018 (DPA18) and the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA).
Trust and accountability are the cornerstones of both GDPR/DPA18 and FOIA and public trust and confidence are central to the principles of policing set out by Sir Robert Peel. This is why compliance with the legislation is so important for the police and the risk is substantial if they are non-compliant. This is particularly so in terms of failing to demonstrate accountability and transparency which then impacts on public trust and confidence, so important in modern day policing.
Information held by the police will no doubt be of public interest but personal data will also be, in the majority of cases, sensitive and could have significant implications for individuals if not disclosed within the timescales stipulated in the legislation. This could impact on job prospects or travel for example and it is important that responses are provided within the timescales set out in the legislation which require that requests for information should be completed ‘without undue delay’ or within a required timescale.
The most common complaints we receive are about subject access requests (SARs) and the timeliness of responses to FOIA requests. It was important that we looked into this in more detail and it became apparent that a number of police forces were struggling to meet their timeliness obligations as set out in GDPR/DPA18 and FOIA. In order to understand the scale of the situation we engaged directly with some forces and with the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC). We encourage underperforming forces to create action plans for improvement.
Although there is evidence that Police forces are improving, there is more work to be done. A quarter of people requesting information don’t get it on time. As a pragmatic regulator we will support organisations’ improvement and compliance with relevant legislation but where satisfactory improvement has not been made then we need to consider our wider powers.
As a result of our monitoring we have issued a number of practice recommendations to police forces and we will continue to monitor forces that underperform and consider further, formal action where it is required to drive improvement. We also identified some forces as exemplars of good practice and those forces can help to drive improvements in underperforming forces.