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Tuesday 18 April 2023

Surrey and Sussex Police have been reprimanded for recording more than 200,000 phone calls without people's knowledge

The breach followed the roll-out of an app called Another Call Recorder in 2016 that recorded phone calls.

The forces made the app available for use by a “small number” of specialist hostage negotiators in 2017.

But at the time, there was no way of restricting its use, and as soon as the mistake was noticed in 2020, it was disabled.

Surrey Police statement in full.  

The Information Commissioner’s Office has today announced its decision to issue a reprimand to the Chief Constables of Surrey and Sussex Police for unauthorised use of a data recording app.

The notice  relates to the use of an application known as Another Call Recorder (ACR), an app available for download to mobile devices which can be used for recording phone calls.

In 2017, the forces made the app available for use by a small number of specialist hostage negotiators for the purpose of supporting kidnap and crisis negotiations and maximising public safety.

There was no means at that time of restricting use of the app and, unintentionally, it was enabled for all staff to download without appropriate guidance in place. When enabled, the app records and stores all phone calls made in the mobile device.

The forces took immediate action when the error was identified in March 2020 including removing access to the app, securing evidence and self-referring the breach to the relevant regulators, including the Investigatory Powers Commissioner’s Office (IPCO) and the Information Commissioner’s Office. The Crown Prosecution Service was also made aware.

A thorough internal audit was carried out to establish the number of officers and staff across both Surrey Police and Sussex Police who downloaded the app, the extent to which they used it and the quantity and nature of any material which may have been recorded.

This established that the app was used on 432 phones and that those phones held audio files. The audit also established that 1,024 officers and staff had downloaded the app.

Of these, four users had recordings on their devices which fell within the category of “users who have identified recording(s) that are evidence of an offence that is or was under investigation”.

Three of these related to criminal cases and each of the investigating officers was contacted and advised to ensure that the CPS was informed of the existence of these calls, in accordance with the Criminal Procedures & Investigations Act 1996.

Further enquiries established that only one of these could have had a potential impact if the case progressed to trial.

Both force Professional Standards Departments were fully involved in the findings. At no point was any risk or harm to any data subject identified.

All officers and staff who had downloaded the app were directed to delete any calls they had recorded without listening to them. The app and any files were removed and all mobile devices were reset to ensure that all the files were permanently deleted.

The ICO report also outlined a number of recommendations, the majority which have already been implemented.

A new governance process was put in place, ensuring that all new apps are compliant with current legislation before being made available. All staff are provided with instructions and data protection guidance in respect of the use of any apps via a message which appears on the front screen of all devices. 

All existing policies and procedures have been reviewed to ensure that adequate consideration has been given to data subject rights during the processing of personal data.

Both forces use the College of Policing approved package in relation to data protection training, and it is mandatory for all staff to complete an annual refresher.

Temporary Assistant Chief Constable Fiona Macpherson explained: “Police management of personal data is vital and we take rigorous measures to ensure this.

“This case exposed a lack of governance around use of this digital application, and this is regrettable.

“As soon as the error was reported, we took urgent action to ensure that this did not happen again. We initiated a review of all applications available on the corporate Google Play Store to ensure that there are no other applications that may have had similar functionality. A robust process is now in place to ensure any new requests for mobile apps are subject to appropriate due diligence and scrutiny.

“Steps were also taken to mitigate the situation by establishing how many officers had downloaded the app, the extent of their use of the app and any potential impact on upcoming legal proceedings. Officers and staff were also given clear instructions to delete any conversations they had recorded without listening to them.

“We also referred the matter proactively to the two regulatory bodies, ICO and IPCO, for their consideration and have fully complied with their directions.”

posted by Radio Jackie News Team @ 3:00 pm  

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