Nearly 1,000 UK police workers have been disciplined over the past three years for abusing their position to access personal data, with 98 dismissed and 243 receiving criminal convictions, new research has revealed.
Privacy campaign group Big Brother Watch obtained the figures by sending Freedom of Information requests to every police force in England and Wales.
The highest number of abuses occurred in Merseyside, where 208 police officers and staff have been given legal cautions for viewing computer records relating to high-profile arrests.
In several of those cases, members of the force had used police computers to spy on colleagues, families and friends. Others had used their privileged position to check on the progress of a court case involving the footballer Steven Gerrard.
Following disciplinary hearings, seven of those resigned while three were handed final written warnings.
But this issue has affected forces throughout England and Wales.
In Dorset, a member of the police force was cautioned for disclosing information about the supply of Class A drugs to a third party. In Nottinghamshire, a police sergeant was given a twelve-month prison sentence for accessing the police computer systems and obtaining data for non-police purposes.
The revelations are given added impetus given the uproar surrounding media giant News International’s phone hacking activities and alleged illicit payments to the police in return for information.
“Police employees been found to have run background records checks on friends and possible partners, but some have been convicted for passing sensitive information to criminal gangs and drug dealers,” said Daniel Hamilton, director of Big Brother Watch.
“This is, at best, hugely intrusive and, at worst, downright dangerous. Police forces must adopt a zero tolerance approach to this kind of behaviour. Those found guilty of abusing their position should be sacked on the spot.”
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