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.
- The total number of terrorism offences that have been uncovered by your force via social media from January 1, 2014 to September 18, 2019?
- Which social media sites were they on?
- What were the offences?
- How many people were arrested in connection with the offences?
Northumbria Police will neither confirm nor deny any information is held regarding this request and by doing so cite the following exemptions.
Section 24(2) National Security
Section 31(3) Law Enforcement
Sections 24 and 31 are prejudice based qualified exemptions, both evidence of harm and public interest considerations need to be articulated to the applicant.
Harm in Confirming or Denying that Information is held
Policing is an information-led activity, and recording of all offences, including terrorist offences, forms part of a fundamental day-to-day delivery of effective operational law enforcement.
Although purely statistical data, to confirm or deny whether any information relating to terror offences which has been discovered via social media, is held would reveal investigative activity enabling terrorists and other offenders to identify force areas which may be ‘safer’ to carry out their offending.
To confirm or deny whether information relating to terror offences is held would be extremely useful to those involved in terrorist activity which would ultimately undermine ongoing investigations would could lead to police officers having to be removed from their frontline duties in order to increase manpower on an investigation.
Furthermore, to confirm or deny whether information is held has the potential to undermine the flow of information (intelligence) received from members of the public into the Police Service relating to these types of offences thereby undermining National Security and leaving the United Kingdom at risk of more terrorist attack.
Public Interest Considerations
Section 24(2) National Security
Factors favouring complying with Section 1(1)(a) confirming that information is held
The public are entitled to know how public funds are spent and how resources are distributed within an area of policing. To confirm whether terrorism offences have been uncovered because of social media would enable the general public to hold Northumbria Police to account ensuring all such offences are recorded and investigated appropriately. In the current financial climate of cuts and with the call for transparency of public spending this would enable improved public debate.
Factors against complying with Section 1(1)(a) confirming or denying that information is held
Security measures are put in place to protect the community we serve. As evidenced within the harm to confirm whether or not individual forces hold information relating to terrorism offences discovered via the use of social media would highlight to terrorists, and individuals intent on carrying out criminal activity, vulnerabilities within Northumbria Police.
Taking into account the current security climate within the United Kingdom, no information (such as the citing of an exemption which confirms information is held; or conversely, stating no information is held) which may aid a terrorist should be disclosed. To what extent this information may aid a terrorist is unknown, but it is clear that it will have an impact on a force’s ability to monitor terrorist activity.
Irrespective of what information is or isn’t held, the public entrust the Police Service to make appropriate decisions with regard to their safety and protection and the only way of reducing risk is to be cautious with what is placed into the public domain.
The cumulative effect of terrorists gathering information from various sources would be even more impactive when linked to other information gathered from various sources about terrorism. The more information disclosed over time will give a more detailed account of the tactical infrastructure of not only a force area but also the country as a whole.
Any incident that results from such a disclosure would, by default, affect National Security.
Section 31(3) Law Enforcement
Factors favouring complying with Section 1(1)(a) confirming that any other information is held
Confirming that information exists relating to terror offences uncovered via social media would lead to a better informed public which may encourage individuals to provide intelligence in order to reduce offences.
Factors against complying with Section 1(1)(a) neither confirm nor denying that any other information is held
Confirmation or denial that information relating to terror offences is held in this case would suggest Northumbria Police take their responsibility to protect information dismissively and inappropriately.
We have a duty of care to the community at large and public safety is of paramount importance. If an FOI disclosure revealed information to the world that would undermine the security of the national infrastructure, offenders, including terrorist organisations, could use this to their advantage which would compromise public safety and more worryingly encourage offenders to carry out further crimes.
By its very nature, information relating to whether or not terror offences have occurred within a specific force area undoubtedly undermines the effective delivery of operational law enforcement. Under FOI there is a requirement to comply with Section 1(1)(a) and confirm what information is held. In some cases it is that confirmation, or not, which could disclose facts harmful to members of the public, police officers, other law enforcement agencies and their employees.
The points above highlight the merits of confirming or denying whether terror offences discovered via social media have occurred in your force area. 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 relating to high profile investigative activity.
Weakening the mechanisms used to monitor any type of criminal activity, and specifically terrorist activity would place the security of the country at an increased level of danger.
In addition anything that places that confidence at risk, no matter how generic, would undermine any trust or confidence individuals have in the Police Service. Therefore, at this moment in time, it is our opinion that for these issues the balance test favours neither confirming nor denying that information is held.