Police Retention of Closed Case Personal Data – Guideline High Court Ruling

Police retention of personal data relating to closed cases is highly controversial, particularly when it comes to children. The High Court confronted the issue head on in a case concerning a boy who was aged just 11 when an online tutor reported him to police as a potential radicalisation risk.

In line with the Government’s ‘Prevent’ strategy, the tutor’s report was passed by the Department for Education to the Counter Terrorism Command of the Metropolitan Police. Following inquiries, officers concluded that there was no cause for concern that the boy was at risk and the case was closed.

The force, however, declined his mother’s request for deletion of his personal data from its files. It said that data relating to the boy which had been gathered in the course of the inquiry would be retained for at least six years. It asserted that retention would have no practical impact on the boy’s future, educational or otherwise, and that it was necessary to safeguard his welfare.

In support of her son’s challenge to that decision, the mother stated that much of the relevant data was inaccurate or untrue and expressed concern that its retention on 10 databases might expose him to future monitoring and jeopardise his prospects. He hoped to attend a top university and to train as a doctor.

Ruling on the matter, the Court found that the conclusion that he was neither being radicalised nor vulnerable to radicalisation did not mean that his personal data should have been deleted when the case was closed. In upholding his claim, however, it noted that almost five years had passed since then without any further concerns being raised that he might be at risk. Given his continuing fear that his personal data might be disclosed to third parties, particularly universities, the impact on him of retaining the data had been underestimated.

The Court concluded that continued retention of the boy’s personal data, some of it sensitive, would be a disproportionate interference with his right to respect for his private life, enshrined in Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Such continued retention not being strictly necessary, it would also amount to a breach of the Data Protection Act 2018.

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