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.
1.Can you please provide figures for how many times you have made requests to the social media companies Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Snapchat, Dropbox and Google for information during your criminal investigations?
2.Can you please state whether the companies fulfilled the request.
3.If possible, can you break down these figures into years and types of crime.
Can you please provide the data for the past three years, Calendar years 2015,16 and 17. If this is not possible can you please provide the information for the past calendar year.
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 however cannot be disclosed for the following reasons.
The information requested is not held in a format that allows its extraction within the permitted 18 hour threshold. Points 2 and 3 would require 514 applications (this provides a response to point 1) being manually reviewed to establish if the companies fulfilled the request and the information being broken down into crime types. Even at a conservative estimate of 10 minutes per record, which we have considered as reasonable, we have estimated that to extract this information would take over 83 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.
When applying Section 12 exemption our duty to assist under Section 16 of the Act would normally entail that we contact you to determine whether it is possible to refine the scope of your request to bring it within the cost limits. However, from the information we have outlined above I see no reasonable way in which we can do so.
Additionally, we shall neither confirm nor deny any further information regarding your request is held regarding covert use, and be doing so we shall rely on the following exemptions:
S23(5) Information supplied by or concerning certain security bodies
S31(3) Law enforcement
Section 23 is an absolute class-based exemption and therefore there is no requirement to conduct a harm or public interest test. Section 31 is a class-based absolute exemption and consideration of the public interest must be given as to whether neither confirming nor denying the information exists is the appropriate response. I detail the harm first.
Harm in confirming that Information is held
Public safety is of paramount importance to the policing purpose and must be taken into account in deciding to disclose whether the information is or is not held. Furthermore, confirming if particular tactics are used and confirming policing methods which are not in the public domain may prejudice the use of this method by allowing criminals to adopt counter measures.
To confirm or deny whether we hold any further information, would allow interested parties to gain an upper hand and awareness of policing policy and decisions. To confirm or deny that any other information is held or provide details relating to what may or may not be held may be to the detriment of providing an efficient policing service and a failure in providing a duty of care to all members of the public, and this would also impact upon any current investigation.
Factors favouring confirmation or denial for S31
Confirming or denying whether any further information is held would allow the public to see where public funds have been spent and allow the Police service to appear more open and transparent.
Factors against confirmation or denial for S31
By confirming or denying whether any further information is held would mean that law enforcement tactics would be compromised which would hinder the prevention and detection of crime. Investigation procedures and tactics are re-used and have been monitored by criminal groups, fixated individuals and terrorists. These procedures and tactics would need to be reviewed which would require more resources and would add to the cost to the public purse.
The Police Service is charged with enforcing the law, preventing and detecting crime and protecting the communities we serve. The safety of the public is of paramount importance and the Police Service will not divulge whether any other information is or is not held if to do so would place the safety of an individual at risk or undermine an investigation. Whilst there is a public interest in the transparency of policing, providing assurance that the Police Service is appropriately and effectively engaging with the threat from criminals, there is a very strong public interest in safeguarding policing techniques and the integrity of the police, in knowing that policing activity is appropriate and balanced, which will only be overridden in exceptional circumstances.
It is therefore our opinion that for these issues the balancing test for confirming or not that any other information is held, is not made out.