71% of UK police forces refuse to provide data on digital evidence gathering

A report published today by Big Brother Watch reveals that 93% of police forces extract digital evidence from connected devices, but alarmingly 71% refuse to provide data of how often or to what extent.

32 forces refused to answer the organisation’s Freedom of Information requests sparking concerns over their failure to follow their own good practice guidance on public transparency.

Based on the data received, Police Access to Digital Evidence also reveals a patchy picture of training in digital evidence gathering and data extraction, and inconsistencies in training budgets across UK forces.

With connected devices and digital data now ubiquitous in society, the impact on crime and policing is inevitable, however the reaction the police and the Government have had to this inevitability appears to be far from adequate.

The legislative framework is dated and complex, training for officer is patchy and funding inconsistent, and transparency of how, when, why and to what extent such capabilities are being a good practice essential, alarmingly yet to be met.

In light of these findings, Big Brother Watch make three key recommendations:

  1. Review of legislation. The legislative process for extraction and interrogation of data from seized devices, in relation to a criminal act, needs urgent re-examination to ensure it is clear, concise and fit for modern policing.
  2. Police must be transparent regarding digital evidence gathering. Police forces must adhere to good practice guidance on transparency. Records of the number of seized devices, the number of devices subject to data extraction and details regarding how long data is held for must be kept and made available for audit.
  3. Training in digital evidence gathering for all officers. Improvements need to be made to the training of police officers in the handling, interrogation and retention of data extracted from devices. Any front-line officer whose role may involve the handling of digital evidence should be able to prove a high level of competence and understanding of the technical process and data protection.


Jennifer Krueckeberg – Researcher at Big Brother Watch said:

“Digital evidence is a critical part of modern day policing. However, the lack of transparency we have encountered has sparked serious concerns. If the police want to keep the public’s trust in their ability to face the challenges of a digital age, they need to clearly show how they handle digital devices and extracted data”

“Officers have to be continuously trained to deal with ever-evolving new technologies. It is unacceptable that the police have to operate on outdated guidance and 1980s legislation to fight crime in the 21st century.”