Disclosure Details

Social Media - 173/14

Dated: 05 Mar 2014

Date of request:    18/02/2014

Date of response:  04/03/2014

Provision of information held by Northumbria Police made under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (the 'Act')(FOIA)

Thank you for your email dated 18 February 2014  in which you made a request for access to certain information which may be held by Northumbria Police.

As you may be aware the purpose of the Act is to allow a general right of access to information held by a Public Authority (including the Police), subject to certain limitations and exemptions.

You asked: 

"1. A copy of any internal force policy relating to the use of social media both on behalf of the force and privately by officers, staff or volunteers.

2. As of the response date, the number of (a) Twitter, (b) Facebook, and (c) other social media platforms operated by and on behalf of your force.

3. As of the response date, the number of (a) police officers, (b) police staff, (c) special constables, and (d) police volunteers  who have registered their use of (1) Twitter, (2) Facebook, and (3) other social media platforms with your force.

4. As of the response date, the number of (a) police officers, (b) police staff, (c) special constables, and (d) police volunteers who have provided your force with the password for their accounts on (1) Twitter, (2) Facebook, and (3) other social media platforms.

5. The number of (a) police officers, (b) police staff, (c) special constables, and (d) police volunteers who have been the subject of professional standards investigations related to their use of (1) privately operated, and  (2) force operated social media accounts in the last 3 years which has originated from an internal complaint or investigation.
 
6. The number of (a) police officers, (b) police staff, (c) special constables, and (d) police volunteers who have been the subject of professional standards investigations related to their use of (1) privately operated, and  (2) force operated social media accounts in the last 3 years which has originated from an iexternal complaint or investigation."

 

In response:

We have now had the opportunity to fully consider your request and I provide a response for your attention.

Following receipt of your request, searches were conducted with the Professional Standards and Corporate Communications Departments of Northumbria Police. I can confirm that the information you have requested is held by Northumbria Police.

I have today decided to disclose the located information to you as follows.

Please note, as advised in our acknowledgment to you dated 19/02/14 information can only be provided up to the date a request is received and not as of the response date, as per your request. 


1. As the information you have requested here is accessible by other means I have not provided you with a copy of the information and will rely on Section 21 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000.  You should therefore consider this a refusal for your request.

I have provided an explanation to this exemption below.

Section 21 (1) - Information accessible by other means

Information which is reasonably accessible to the applicant is exempt information.
This information is published, in the public domain and can be found via the link below

http://www.northumbria.police.uk/about_us/policies_plans_and_strategy/policies/Command_Services/details.asp?id=66851


2.  As the information you have requested here is accessible by other means I have not provided you with a copy of the information and will rely on Section 21 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000.  You should therefore consider this a refusal for your request.

I have provided an explanation to this exemption below.

Section 21 (1) - Information accessible by other means

Information which is reasonably accessible to the applicant is exempt information.
This information is published, in the public domain and can be found via the link below

http://www.northumbria.police.uk/about_us/website_information/socialmedia/


Additionally Northumbria Police  can neither confirm nor deny that it holds any other information relevant to this part of your request, as the duty in Section 1(1)(a) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 does not apply by virtue of the following exemptions:
Section 23(5) Information supplied by, or concerning, certain Security Bodies
Section 24(2) National Security
Section 30(3) Investigations (by virtue of Section 30(2))
Section 31(3) Law Enforcement
Section 23 is a class based absolute exemption and there is no requirement to consider the public interest in this case.  Confirming or denying the existence of whether information is held would contravene the constrictions laid out with Section 23 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 in that this stipulates a generic bar on disclosure of any information applied by, or concerning, certain Security Bodies. 
Section 30 is a class based qualified exemption and there is a requirement to consider the public interest to ensure neither confirming or denying information is held is appropriate.
Sections 31 and 24 are prejudice based qualified exemptions and there is a requirement to evidence the prejudice (harm) in disclosure and consider the public interest to ensure neither confirming or denying that information is held is appropriate.
I have set this out below.
Overall Harm in Confirming or Denying that Information is held
Modern-day policing is intelligence led which is particularly pertinent with regard to any undercover operation.  The National Intelligence Model is adhered to by all police forces across England and Wales.  It is a business process with an intention to provide focus to operational policing and to achieve a disproportionately greater impact from the resources applied to any problem.  It is dependant on a clear framework of analysis of information and intelligence allowing a problem solving approach to law enforcement crime prevention techniques.  To confirm whether or not Northumbria Police  use social media as a covert investigative tool would undermine any ongoing covert operation by revealing tactical capability and intelligence within this area.
The prevention and detection of crime is the foundation upon which policing is built.  The Police Service has a clear responsibility to prevent crime and arrest those responsible for committing crime or those than plan to commit crime.  By confirming whether or not a specific tactic is used could directly influence the stages of that process, jeopardise current investigations and prejudice future law enforcement.  This in turn could lead to police officers being resourced away from the frontline in order to focus on catching the criminals involved within any undercover investigation. 
The threat from terrorism cannot be ignored.  It is generally recognised that the international security landscape is increasingly complex and unpredictable.  The current UK threat level from international terrorism, based on intelligence, is assessed as substantial.  I have provided a link below which you may find useful.
https://www.mi5.gov.uk/home/the-threats/terrorism/threat-levels.html
In order to counter criminal and terrorist behaviour it is vital that the police have the ability to work together, where necessary covertly, to obtain intelligence within current legislative frameworks to assist in the investigative process to ensure the successful arrest and prosecution of offenders who commit or plan to commit acts of terrorism.
To achieve this goal, it is vitally important that information sharing takes place between police officers, members of the public, police forces as well as other security law enforcement bodies within the United Kingdom.  Such an action supports counter-terrorism measures in the fight to deprive terrorist networks of their ability to commit crime.
To confirm or deny whether information is held would be extremely useful to those involved in terrorist activity as it would enable them to identify whether or not a specific covert tactic, such as using social media to assist with an investigation, has been used.
Public Interest Considerations
Section 24(2) – National Security
Factors favouring complying with Section 1(1)(a) confirming that information is held
The public are entitled to know how public funds are spent and resources distributed within an area of policing.  To confirm whether information exists relating to a specific covert tactic would enable the general public to hold Northumbria Police to account ensuring all such communications are recorded and stored appropriately to assist us with the investigative process into terrorist activity.  In the current financial climate of cuts and with the call for transparency of public spending this would enable improved public debate.
Factors against complying with Section 1(1)(a) confirming or denying that any other information is held
Security measures are put in place to protect the community that we serve.  As evidenced within the harm to confirm detail of specific tactical options available to Northumbria Police would highlight to terrorists and individuals intent on carrying out criminal activity a force’s tactical capability.  This would ultimately increase the risk of harm to the general public and significantly undermine any ongoing or future operations to protect the security or infrastructure of the United Kingdom.
Taking into account the current security climate within the United Kingdom, no information (such as the citing of an exemption which confirms information pertinent to this request is held, or conversely, stating ‘no information is held’) which may aid a terrorist should be disclosed.  To what extent this information may aid a terrorist is unknown, but it is clear that it will have an impact on a force’s ability to monitor terrorist activity.
Irrespective of what information is or isn’t held, the public entrust the Police Service to make appropriate decisions with regard to their safety and protection and the only way of reducing risk is to be cautious with what is placed into the public domain.
The cumulative effect of terrorists gathering information from various sources would be even more impactive when linked to other information gathered from various sources about terrorism.  The more information disclosed over time will give a more detailed account of the tactical infrastructure of not only a force area but also the country as a whole.
Any incident that results from such a disclosure would by default affect National Security.
Public Interest Considerations
Section 30
Factors favouring complying with Section 1(1)(a) confirming that information is held
Confirming or denying that information exists relevant to this request would lead to a better informed public improving their knowledge and understanding of the investigatory process and, as all police investigations are publicly funded, confirmation that information is held would provide transparency with regard to the allocation of force budgets.
Factors against complying with Section 1(1)(a) confirming or denying that any other information is held
Confirmation that information is held would prejudice how investigations are carried out in the future by revealing details of covert activity.  This would hinder the prevention and detection of crime and affect the law enforcement capabilities of Northumbria Police.  Confirmation would also undermine the partnership approach to investigations.
Section 31(3) Law Enforcement
Factors favouring complying with Section 1(1)(a) – confirming information is held
By confirming or denying whether this specific covert tactic is used as part of the  investigative techniques of Northumbria Police would lead to better public awareness into how this force tackles crime covertly which may lead to more information (intelligence) being submitted from the public which may culminate in a reduction of crime. 
Section 31 – Factors favouring non compliance with Section 1(1)(a)
The Police Service will not confirm whether or not it is involved in specific tactical ventures with regard to covert investigative policing.  To do so would disclose information to the detriment of law enforcement techniques as evidenced within the above harm. 
Balancing Test
The points above highlight the merits of confirming or denying whether information pertinent to this request exists.  The Police Service is charged with enforcing the law, preventing and detecting crime and protecting the communities we serve.  As part of that policing purpose, various tactical tools may be used to gather information relating to high profile investigative activity.
Weakening the mechanisms used to monitor any type of criminal activity, and specifically terrorist activity, would place the security of the country at an increased level of danger.
In addition any disclosure by Northumbria Police that places the security of the country at risk, no matter how generic, would undermine any trust or confidence individuals have in us.  Therefore, at this moment in time, it is our opinion that for these issues the balance test favours neither confirming nor denying that information exists.
No inference can be drawn from this refusal that information is or isn’t held.

3 No information held. We do not hold a register for the use of any accounts

4. None.

5.
Police Officers - 10
Police Staff - 2
Special Constable – 1

12 of these were privately operated and 1 was a force operated social media account.

6.
Police Officers - 13
Police Staff - 4
Special Constable - 1

All of these were privately operated.

Due to the different methods of recording information across 43 forces, a specific response from one constabulary should not be seen as an indication of what information could be supplied (within cost) by another.  Systems used for recording these figures are not generic, nor are the procedures used locally in capturing the data.  For this reason responses between forces may differ, and should not be used for comparative purposes.

The information we have supplied to you is likely to contain intellectual property rights of Northumbria Police.  Your use of the information must be strictly in accordance with the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 (as amended) or such other applicable legislation.  In particular, you must not re-use this information for any commercial purpose.


How to complain

If you are unhappy with our decision or do not consider that we have handled your request properly and we are unable to resolve this issue informally, you are entitled to make a formal complaint to us under our complaints procedure which can be found at: http://www.northumbria.police.uk/foi/disclosurelog/foicomprights.asp

If you are still unhappy after we have investigated your complaint and reported to you the outcome, you may complain directly to the Information Commissioner’s Office and request that they investigate to ascertain whether we have dealt with your request in accordance with the Act.

Downloads

FOI Complaint Rights Procedure_tcm4-67103