Webcam Blackmail (5083_14)

Request

Under the Freedom of Information Act I would like to request information on the number of

incidents of blackmail, where a webcam has been involved in some way, have been reported to the force in each of the last five years.

 

I would like data on the number of reports of blackmail in each of the last five years, where

either “webcam”, “web cam” or “video link” are mentioned in the summary of the report.

 

Could you provide a summary of each report and state whether the alleged victim was aged under-16, 16 to 18 or over-18.

 

Response

Under the Freedom of Information Act I would like to request information on the number of

incidents of blackmail, where a webcam has been involved in some way, have been reported to the force in each of the last five years.

 

I would like data on the number of reports of blackmail in each of the last five years, where

either “webcam”, “web cam” or “video link” are mentioned in the summary of the report.

 

From 01 January 2009 to 31 December 2013 there have been 7 incidents of blackmail where

“webcam”, “web cam” or “video link” are mentioned in the summary of the report

 

2011 = 1

2012 = 2

2013 = 4

 

 

Could you provide a summary of each report and state whether the alleged victim was aged under-16, 16 to 18 or over-18.

 

This information is exempt by virtue of the following exemptions

 

Section 40 (2) (personal data)

 

This exemption and explanatory notes are shown here:

 

http://www.west-midlands.police.uk/docs/advice-centre/foi/exemptions.pdf

 

Section 40 (2) is an absolute and class based exemption and in this case to release this personal information would not constitute fair processing of the data and therefore would breach the first of the principles within the Data Protection Act 1998. As this exemption is class based I am not required to identify the harm in disclosure and in this instance I believe that the right to privacy outweighs any public interest in release.

 

 

Additionally West Midlands Police neither confirms nor denies that it holds any other information relevant to this request by virtue of the following exemptions:

Section 23(5) Information supplied by or concerning certain Security Bodies

Section 30(3) Investigations

Section 31(3) Law Enforcement

Section 40(5) Personal Information

Section 44(2) Prohibitions on Disclosure.

 

Evidence of Harm

In order to ensure International co-operation is adhered to, it is vital that the Police Service has the ability to work together with overseas police forces and law enforcement agencies, where necessary covertly, in order to obtain intelligence within current legislative frameworks which may include information relating to exempt bodies as detailed within Section 23(3) of the Freedom of Information Act.

To confirm or deny that any other information pertinent to this request is held would be extremely useful to those involved in this type of blackmail, such as organised criminal gangs, as it would enable them to map where exempt bodies are actively carrying out investigations.  Such awareness would enable individuals, subject of this investigative activity, to evade detection and surveillance.

This would also damage future operational relationships between West Midlands Police and other law enforcement agencies.  There is a general expectation that information held by West Midlands Police and exchanged with other agencies, will be dealt with appropriately and securely in the knowledge that confidences will be maintained.  To state that West Midlands Police does not hold any other information pertinent to this request would provide carte blanche to any organised criminal gang and offender that there is a serious gap in our intelligence.

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 that plan to commit crime.  By confirming whether or not the force does or does not hold other information could directly influence the stages of that process, and jeopardise current investigations and prejudice law enforcement.

 

Public Interest Considerations

 

Section 30

Factors favouring complying with Section 1(1)(a) confirming that information is held

Confirming or denying that any other information exists relevant to this request would lead to a better informed public improving their knowledge and understanding of the investigatory process involving offences of webcam blackmail.  As all investigations are publicly funded, confirmation that any other information is held would provide transparency with regard to budgets that are allocated to investigate blackmail offences.

In addition, reassurance may be provided to the public that the Police Service tasks all reports of blackmail offences seriously and conducts investigations appropriately.  This could allow the public to have a better understanding of the effectiveness of the Police Service.

Factors against complying with Section 1(1)(a) confirming or denying that any other information is held

The Police Service will never disclose information which could identify investigative activity and therefore undermine their investigations.  To do so would hinder the prevention or detection of crime.

Confirmation that any other information is held would prejudice how investigations into webcam blackmail investigations are carried out in the future by revealing potential covert investigative activity.  This again would hinder the prevention and detection of crime and affect West Midlands Police law enforcement capabilities.  Confirmation would also undermine the partnership approach to investigations.

Section 31(3) Law Enforcement

Factors favouring complying with Section 1(1)(a) – confirming other information is held

By confirming or denying whether any other information relating to webcam blackmail is held would lead to better public awareness identifying that the force undertakes all avenues of investigative processes in order to tackle blackmail crime covertly.  This fact may led to more information (intelligence) being submitted from the public which may culminate in a reduction of crime.

Factors favouring non compliance with Section 1(1)(a)

As detailed within the harm above West Midlands Police will not confirm or deny whether any other information is held if to do so would seriously undermine the partnership approach to law enforcement.

 

Balancing Test

The points above highlight the merits of confirming or denying that any other 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, information is gathered which can be highly sensitive.  Irrespective of what other information may or may not be held, confirmation or denial that any other information is held relating to blackmail offences would identify investigative activity.

Weakening the mechanisms used to monitor any type of criminal activity, would place relations between West Midlands Police and other law enforcement agencies at risk.

Information disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act is made public to the world when released and has an impact on all areas of the country not just within the jurisdiction of one public authority.  A series of disclosures would identify where ‘vulnerabilities’ have been highlighted.

From the arguments articulated above it is clear that confirmation that other information is held could enable a ‘mosaic of data’ to be drawn up identifying to members of the criminal fraternity investigative activity.

Having considered all the factors, at this moment in time, it is our opinion that for these issues the balance test favours neither confirming nor denying that any other information is held pertinent to this request.

No inference can be drawn from this refusal that other information is or isn’t held.

 

If you decide to write an article / use the enclosed data we would ask you to take into consideration the factors highlighted in this document so as to not mislead members of the public or official bodies, or misrepresent the relevance of the whole or any part of this disclosed material.

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