Disclosure Details

Communication Data - 54/12

Dated: 07 Jun 2011

Date of request: 13/01/2012

Date of response: 02/02/2012

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

Thank you for your email dated 13 January 2012 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: 

Since 2010, details of the occasions when your police force has used a production order or a search warrant to obtain communications which are stored in a communication system (for example, audio or video messages which are being stored so a telephone user can have access to them).

I would like a copy of the information and would like for it to be sent by email if possible.

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 Crime Department of Northumbria Police.  I can confirm that the information you have requested is held by Northumbria Police.

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

The total number since 2010 is 72 Production Orders.

Copies of the Production Orders will not be disclosed and by withholding we rely on the following exemption:-

Section 31(1) - Law Enforcement

This exemption is applied to information which would be likely to prejudice (a) the prevention and detection of crime and (b) the apprehension or prosecution of offenders.

Section 31 is a prejudiced based qualified exemption.  This means that the legislators have identified that the harm (prejudice) in disclosure needs to be documented and the public interest in disclosure should be considered.  The result of both the harm and public interest test (PIT) should be articulated to the applicant, and I have set this out below.

Harm

The success of criminal investigations is very often dependent on the use of covert techniques and methodology.  Search warrants and production orders are used throughout an investigation in order to make progress in the apprehension and prosecution of offenders.  To disclose details of these will very possibly interfere with those investigations by alerting those subject to investigation.

Many criminals are constantly active and astute in their assessment of police capabilities and will capitalise on any information they can glean about policy and practice.  Using the information to compromise policing methods will assist their offending behaviour.  For example, enabling offenders to engage counter measure against disclosed techniques in order to evade detection.

Public Interest Test

Public interest in favour of non disclosure
Where current or future law enforcement of the force may be compromised by the release of information.  In this case, for the reasons outlined in the evidenced harm, the effectiveness of current and future strategies for carrying out investigations may be compromised and undermine the prevention and detection of crime.  It is the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) view that information relating to an investigation will rarely be disclosed under the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act 2000.  Whilst such information may be released in order to serve a core policing purpose, ie to protect life and property and/or assist in prevention and detection of crime and/or in the apprehension and prosecution of offenders, it will only be disclosed following a Freedom of Information request if there are strong public interest considerations favouring disclosure.  The further the considerations favouring disclosure are from a core policing purpose, the less the considerations will be.  It is my view that disclosure of this information will not serve a core policing function and could be detrimental to investigations.

Where actions have been taken as a result of information received from confidential sources, disclosure of details of these cases may effectively inform the public of the identity of those informants.

Public interest in favour of disclosure
The release of information will enable the public to have a better understanding of the efficiency and effectiveness of the police service and how they carry out their investigations.  In this case the public could better understand how enquiries are progressed through obtaining such communication data.

Balancing Test

Arguably it is in the publics interest to know if forces are making use of production orders and search warrants appropriately.  However, where the public are dissatisfied with the actions of the force, appropriate steps are available to those aggrieved.  Moreover such methods employed by the Police are scrutinised on behalf of the government by the Office of the Interception of Communications Commissioner.

However it should be noted that what interests the public in not necessarily the same as what is in the public's interest.  The disclosure of detailed information regarding criminal investigations including cases that are ongoing would clearly not be in the public interest.  Any disclosure where the public interest is not made out that may infringe on the prevention and detection of crime must be resisted.  In this case law enforcement and investigations would be jeopardised.

Decision

Having weighed up both parts of the public interest test, I have decided on balance it is in the public interest to withhold the requested information.  This is because I do not see how the release of this information can provide a tangible community benefit, ie protect life and property and/or assist in prevention and detection of crime and/or the apprehension and prosecution of offenders etc.  While the public interest considerations favouring disclosure carry particular weight, it is felt that, on balance, the perceived public safety derived from non-disclosure is of greater importance than the perceived public confidence derived from disclosure.

The release of this information could impede the service provided to the public by Northumbria Police.  Consequently, in this case the public interest test favours non-disclosure.

You should consider this a refusal under Section 17 of the Act.

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_tcm4-28029