Social Media (323/18)

Request

I am researching the use of social media for conducting enquiries into tracing offenders and its impact on Human Rights and Data Protection legislation.

I have some questions in relation to your forces approach to this matter.

  1. Does your force undertake enquiries on Social Media to trace offenders using their publically available profiles or linked profiles?
  2. If so what record do you keep of those enquiries?
  3. If not what is your forces position on those enquiries?
  4. Do you feel they breach Article 8 Right to a private life or Data Protection?
  5. Or has this not been considered?
  6. Do you expressly forbid those types of enquiries being conducted?
  7. Does your Force have a policy relating to the use of social media for investigations? If so can I please have a copy emailed to me.

Response

We can confirm that relevant information is held by West Midlands Police. However, while the majority of the information is attached to this email I am afraid that I am not required by statute to release all of the information requested. Please find attached a redacted document. This letter serves as a Refusal Notice under Section 17 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (the Act) for the parts of the document that have not been released.

REASONS FOR DECISION

The Freedom of Information Act places two responsibilities on public authorities, the first of which is to confirm what information it holds and secondly to then disclose that information, unless exemptions apply.

In this case, this letter represents a Refusal Notice for the redacted parts of the attached document. The information is exempt by virtue of Section 31 (1) (a) (b) (Law enforcement)

This exemption and explanatory notes are shown here:

https://www.app.college.police.uk/app-content/information-management/freedom-of-information/#freedom-of-information-exemptions

In line with the above, I am required to complete a Prejudice Test/Public Interest Test (PIT) on disclosure. Please find this PIT below.

Harm

Disclosing information in relation to social media monitoring could have a detrimental effect on law enforcement and consequently may cause harm to individuals and the community. The disclosure of the requested information would undermine West Midlands Police’s capabilities which consequently would be detrimental to our ability to deal with the on-going threat we face from online crime. This could lead to West Midlands Police being unable to protect and serve the community to the best of its ability, consequently putting members of the public at risk. Any disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act is a disclosure to the world, and it is felt that the disclosure of this information would prejudice the effectiveness of West Midlands Police’s efforts in dealing with social media and digital crime and would allow inferences to be drawn about force level activity and identify vulnerability.

Factors Favouring Disclosure

The disclosure of the information would make members of the public better informed of the threat of social media and cybercrime and would allow them to take steps to protect themselves. Improved public awareness may lead to the police receiving more intelligence about possible acts of online crime, as members of the public will be more observant of suspicious activity which in turn may result in a reduction of crime.

Factors Favouring Non-Disclosure

The disclosure of this information could compromise law enforcement tactics, which may hinder the Police force’s ability to prevent and detect cybercrime. The threat of cybercrime and social media offences could increase as more crimes are committed as a result of offenders gaining knowledge about the capabilities and operational tactics of West Midlands Police, which could place the public at greater risk. Offenders could identify and exploit vulnerable areas of social media, resulting in the public being in fear of more criminal activity occurring. There would be an impact on police resources from the disclosure of information relating to cybercrime, as vulnerable forces may need to increase their resources to reassure and protect the community. Therefore, this would have a detrimental impact on the level of service that the Police Force could provide to members of the public in which we serve. West Midlands Police will not disclose information that could potentially compromise Law Enforcement.

Balancing Test

It is important that West Midlands Police remain transparent in the way in which we operate and utilise public funding, as this increases the public’s confidence with the force which in turn may increase victims and witnesses reporting crimes or suspected crimes to the police. However, the police service is charged with enforcing the law, preventing and detecting crime and protecting the communities we serve, and the release of the requested information may have a negative impact on operational law enforcement and may put communities and individuals at risk.

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