Friday, 6 September 2013

Police data abuses difficult to safeguard despite new systems

Irish Times, 5th September 2013

This July Accenture signed a 10-year agreement with Police Scotland to develop and maintain a new “operational policing system”.

A modern update of the Pulse platform which the company built for the Garda more than a decade ago, i6 as it has been christened, will streamline “in the region of 120 different systems into one” in Scotland.

However, Accenture’s global managing director for defence and public safety, Ger Daly, admits there’s no guarantee the privacy and abuse concerns which have plagued the Irish policing platform since its launch in 1999 won’t be replicated within i6.

“I don’t know if you can ever prevent anybody from [carrying out] malicious work,” concedes Daly, “but at least if you can see it happening you can detect it.”

Here Daly is referring to reports earlier this year of Garda members apparently using the Pulse service to look up details of individuals who had carried out no criminal offences or, indeed, to expunge penalty points from motorists’ licences.

Personal data

All of which led to Minister for Justice Alan Shatter asking the Garda to ensure the database was not to “be used as some sort of social network to be accessed out of curiosity by members of the force”.

Joe McNamee, EU advocacy co-ordinator with the European Digital Rights group, told The Irish Times that “the protection of personal data is in a state of permanent chaos in Ireland”, but that in a “well regulated” environment IT platforms of the type which Accenture built for police forces can be effective.

For his part, Daly says that with regard to the Pulse transgressions, every change made or file accessed within the system is “fully logged and audited”, and that “typically as an officer you need to put in a reason as to why you’re inquiring [about] something”.

Police Scotland’s deputy chief constable Neil Richardson certainly has faith in the new system, saying at the time of the project’s launch it would “increase the ability of our officers to fight crime and be more visible in our communities”. Daly says i6 will “manage policing from detecting incidents, creating warrants, charging someone, recording bail” and more, resulting in radical efficiency benefits.

“Think about the poor officer coming in off the street, recording an incident and then having to look up even close to a tenth of those 120 different [IT- and paper-based] information sources in order to check for something.”

The new system will, he adds, create a “golden record” for those in the system and a “single, integrated information source” for officers.