Elite crime unit's database of one million suspects 'breaks the law'Tom Harper
20 Jan 2011
A secret database of suspects operated by Britain's elite crime-fighting unit breaks data protection and human rights laws, according to the information watchdog.
The Information Commissioner today criticised the Serious Organised Crime Agency for maintaining a shadowy register of suspected fraudsters and money-launderers.
An Information Commissioner's Office report suggests that an estimated one million citizens are on the database known as Elmer - and many may be innocent. It criticises the system, introduced under terror laws 10 years ago, and questions if it is "justified, necessary and proportionate".
Tory peer Lord Marlesford said: "This database sounds like something used by the Stasi in communist Germany. It is in effect a secret database of suspects - none of whom know they are on it nor can they respond to the allegations. It is most un-British and most undemocratic."
Under the Terrorism Act 2000 every employee in the finance industry is required to send Soca the details of any customer they suspect of a financial crime, and are asked to include information such as their national insurance number, vehicle registration, account numbers and details of relevant transactions.
Without making any attempt to check the allegations, Soca agents log every "suspicious activity report" on the database and store them indefinitely.
Today's report, seen by the Standard, states: "The retention of data on the Elmer database engages concerns about whether this is an unjustified interference with an individual's right to respect for their private and family life."
Assistant Information Commissioner Jonathan Bamford led a four-month investigation into Elmer, and warned of "the ongoing privacy risks" of data being retained "indefinitely and without justification". He added: "Many of these entries are of no ongoing interest to the law enforcement community and do not comply with the Human Rights Act or the Data Protection Act." Former shadow home secretary David Davis, who campaigns on civil liberties, said Soca should remove "all entries that are trivial and unproven".
A Soca spokesman said: "We accept the Information Commissioner's findings on retention and deletion periods and already have work in hand to bring current practice into line with ICO requirements."
Police on 999 calls demand taser guns
Rank-and-file police want all officers on emergency calls to be armed with a Taser. They say initial fears about the electric stun-gun have proved "totally groundless".
At present, only firearms officers and the Territorial Support Group are equipped with the weapon, pictured, introduced in Britain in 2003.
Now the Metropolitan Police Federation, representing officers in London, has called for training in its use to be extended.
It wants officers on single patrols to be equipped with it - including those in outer London boroughs, where the TSG is seen less frequently.
Federation chairman Peter Smyth said: "Fears about the Taser causing death on the streets of London have proved totally groundless. When it is deployed, most people calm down without it having to be discharged."
Scotland Yard said: "There are no plans to extend the Taser's use."