A short, sad article appears in Deadline Scotland concerning Anna Wong, a policewoman who faces 54 charges under the Data Protection Act of illegally accessing personal data using the police information system. It is alleged that Ms Wong, who has been suspended from duty by Lothian and Borders Police, used the Scottish Intelligence Database and the Lothian and Borders Operational Support System to obtain personal details of several individuals between March 2006 and June 2007.
Two related issues arise here. The first is there is a constant need to guard against abuse of access to information on the part of people who, by virtue of their official function, occupy a particular position of trust. The police have regular access to the sort of information that most people can never hope to get; this makes them particularly vulnerable to the temptation to exploit that access for personal gain or other improper purposes and it also poses particular difficulties in seeking to establish an operating system that adequately monitors use. The second is that, on account of their access to personal data, people like policemen are easy targets for third parties who seek that information. Given that the police are traditionally poorly paid and that their exposure to criminality is inevitably high, the risk of protected information falling into the wrong hands is likely to remain high, however good the system for protecting it.