Digital Device Forensic Examination - 916/21

Date Responded 03 September 2021

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

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

You asked:

  1. Please provide the number and a breakdown of digital devices eg mobile phones/laptops/desktop computers/games consoles/cameras belonging to complainants and victims waiting to be forensically examined by your force as of today’s date? Please state for how many days each device has been waiting to be forensically examined.
  2. Please provide the number and a breakdown of digital devices eg mobile phones/laptops/desktop computers/games consoles/cameras belonging to defendants and suspects waiting to be forensically examined by your force as of today’s date? Please state for how many days each device has been waiting to be forensically examined.
  3. Please provide the number of cases to which the aforementioned digital devices relate, which are waiting to be forensically examined as of today’s date?
  4. Please provide the number of instances and a breakdown of digital devices eg mobile phones/laptops/desktop computers/games consoles/cameras belonging to complainants and victims where personal data or the device itself has been lost by the force in the past five financial years (including the year to date).  Please state whether those personal data or digital devices were lost before or after having been forensically examined by your force in the past five financial years (including the year to date).
  5. Please provide the number of instances and a breakdown of digital devices eg mobile phones/laptops/desktop computers/games consoles/cameras belonging to defendants and suspects where personal data or the device itself has been lost by the force in the past five financial years (including the year to date).  Please state whether those personal data or digital devices were lost before or after having been forensically examined by your force in the past five financial years (including the year to date).
  6. Please provide the number of Forensic Digital Examiners currently employed by your force’s High Tech Crime Unit or in Kiosk facilities to examine digital devices eg mobile phones/laptops/desktop computers/games consoles/cameras belonging to victims and witnesses.  Please include any other police officers or staff with titles other than Forensic Digital Examiners who are assigned to this task, and please include other departments other than the High Tech Crime Unit/Kiosk facilities if applicable.
  7. Please provide the number of Forensic Digital Examiners currently employed by your force’s High Tech Crime Unit or in Kiosk facilities to examine digital devices eg mobile phones/laptops/desktop computers/games consoles/cameras belonging to defendants and suspects.  Please include any other police officers or staff with titles other than Forensic Digital Examiners who are assigned to this task, and please include other departments other than the High Tech Crime Unit/Kiosk facilities if applicable.
  8. Please state the force’s target timeframe (in days) for digital devices to be examined.
  9. Please confirm whether the force has met that aforementioned target timeframe in each of the past five financial years (including the year to date)?
  10. Please confirm the process by which the length of time that an electronic device is kept by the force is recorded.
  11. Please provide the number of occasions where the amount of time a digital device has been kept by your force exceeded the estimate given to a victim or witness. 
  12. Please provide the number of occasions where the amount of time a digital device has been kept by your force exceeded the estimate given to a defendant or suspect. 

In Response:

As the information requested at each of the points 1, 2, 11 and 12 alone is not recorded electronically nor in an easily searchable format to establish a response at each of these points would require in excess of 1,200 records to be located and manually reviewed to establish a response for each of the points identified above.  Even at a conservative estimate of 5 minutes per record, which we have considered as reasonable, we have estimated that to extract this information would take over 100 hours, therefore Section 12(1) of the Freedom of Information Act would apply.  This section does not oblige a public authority to comply with a request for information if the authority estimated that the cost of complying with the request would exceed the appropriate limit of 18 hours, equating to £450.00.

You should consider this to be a refusal notice under Section 17 of the Act for your request.

You should note that had Section 12 not been fully applicable other exemptions would have been considered and applied where relevant, and this may also be the case if a resubmission is made.

Although excess cost removes Northumbria Police's obligations under the Freedom of Information Act 2000, as a gesture of goodwill I have supplied information below, relative to your request, retrieved or available before it was realised that the fees limit would be exceeded.  I trust this is helpful, but it does not affect our legal right to rely on the fees regulations for the remainder of your request.

3. The Information requested at this point will not be provided and we will rely on the following exemption:

Section 31(1)(a)(b) Law Enforcement

Section 31 is a prejudice based qualified exemption, as such both evidence of harm and public interest considerations need to be articulated and as such I have set these out below:

Harm

Modern day policing is intelligence led and law enforcement depends upon the development of intelligence and the gathering and security of evidence in order to disrupt criminal behaviour and bring offenders to justice.  As criminals adapt and exploit new technology, the police need to respond by overcoming hi-tech barriers in order to meet their responsibilities.  In this case the information relates to the extraction of data from complainants (victims) devices as well as offenders.  Revealing the tactical level at which devices are examined at would identify operational complexity in the examination of some devices and would undermine the processes involved in preventing or detecting crime and the apprehension of prosecution of offenders. 

It is widely known that the criminal fraternity analyse FOI requests to gain information on how and where they can adapt their methods to undertake illegal activity with the maximum chance of evading detection and apprehension.  Although it is not considered harmful to provide very high level data on the overall number of devices awaiting examination, providing any further breakdown of this information presents potential to undermine outstanding current intelligence and investigations and offers up information to the public at large which could be used by criminals to evade capture, ultimately disrupting the forces ability to prevent and detect crime effectively. 

Public Interest Test

Factors favouring Disclosure

Disclosure of the information would be in keeping with the overall need for forces to be open and transparent about their capability to undertake thorough and timely investigations in order to bring offenders to justice.  Disclosure would raise the general public’s awareness that the police are effectively and appropriately investigating all lines of enquiry and where this is less evident, promote public debate to bring relevant forces to account.

Factors favouring Non-Disclosure

When the current or future law enforcement role of the force may be compromised by the release of information, the effectivity of the force will be reduced.  In this case, for the reasons outlined in the evidenced harm, the effectiveness of current and future strategies when gathering evidence may be compromised.

The personal safety of individuals is of paramount importance to the Police Service and must be considered in response of every release.  A disclosure under Freedom of Information is a release to the world and, in this case, if an investigation is compromised by disclosing tactical information relating to the extraction of data from digital devices, the impact of a case failing to reach court would no doubt have an impact on any victim’s confidence in the forces ability. 

Balancing Test

As always the Freedom of Information Act has a presumption of disclosure, unless when balancing the competing public interest factors the prejudice to the community outweighs the benefits.  In this case, there is an argument for disclosure, inasmuch as the public have a right to know that every effort is made to gather all relevant evidence, including extracting data from digital devices, but this must be balanced against the negative impact these disclosures can make. 

Law Enforcement is reliant on community engagement, intelligence and evidence gathering and when it is appropriate, information is given to the public.  What has been established in this case is the fact that disclosure of the levels used when extracting data would have an adverse effect on the investigative process and on the public prevention or detection of crime and the apprehension or prosecution of offenders.  This places the victims of such offending at a greater risk and is not an action the Police Service would be willing to take.  These negatives outweigh any tangible community benefit and therefore the balance does not favour disclosure at this time.

4. No information held.

5. No information held.

6. Senior DFI x 3, DFI x 20, DC/PC/ISO x 314 (kiosk only i.e. initial processing of the device within force prior by investigators prior to submission to DFU in one of eleven digital evidence suites in force)

7. Senior DFI x 3, DFI x 20, DC/PC/ISO x 314 (kiosk only i.e. initial processing of the device within force prior by investigators prior to submission to DFU in one of eleven digital evidence suites in force)

8. Live 1 day, Expedited 30 days, High Priority 150 days, Standard priority 270 days.

9. 2018 – 76%, 2019 – 46%, 2020 – 78% and 2021 – 92%.

10. NPICCS property system / LIMA Case Management System once in DFU. 

back to top