Metropolitan Police ‘Gangs Matrix’ in breach of Data Protection Laws
An investigation by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has found that in using their ‘Gangs Matrix’, the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) has made “multiple and serious” breaches of data protection laws. As a result, the ICO has issued an ‘Enforcement Notice‘, compelling the MPS to fall in line with data protection laws within the next six months.
The MPS’ Gangs Matrix has been the source of significant controversy. This year, Amnesty International produced a report entitled Trapped in the Matrix – Secrecy, stigma, and bias in the Met’s Gangs Database. In their report, Amnesty condemn the use of the ‘Metropolitan Police Service Gangs Violence Matrix’ which launched in 2012 and was created in response to the riots in the Summer of 2011.
How the Matrix works
Individuals on the matrix are referred to as ‘gang nominals’ and are then scored using a ‘traffic-light’ system. Those who are ‘red’ are considered by the police to be the most likely to commit violent offences and those who are green are the least.
Each of the 32 London boroughs operate their own Matrix. They are then combined to comprise the centralised London Gangs Matrix. The personal data recorded on the matrix includes ‘full names, dates of birth, home addresses, and information on whether someone is a prolific firearms offender or knife carrier’ (ICO press release, November 16 2018).
According to Amnesty’s report, the motivation behind the Gangs Matrix was to both enable the Government to understand the extent of gang activity (which was held by Government to be at the root of the rioting in 2011) as well as provide the MPS with a ‘risk-assessment tool to assess and rank London’s suspected gang members according to their ‘propensity for violence’’ (Trapped in the Matrix, pg. 1).
Amnesty reported that in October 2017 data obtained from the MPS stated that of the 3,806 individuals placed on the Gangs Matrix, less than 5% fell into the ‘red’ and 64% were marked green. Drawing from data produced in July 2016 which broke down use of the matrix by ethnicity, Amnesty reported that 87% of individuals on the matrix were from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds, with 78% of that figure coming from black ethnic backgrounds. Further, 99% of the matrix were male, 15% were minors and the majority were between the ages of 12 and 14 (Trapped in the Matrix, pg. 1).
The ICO’s report
The ICO found that whilst the database had a ‘valid purpose’, ‘the inconsistent way it was being used did not comply with data protection rules’ (ICO press release, November 16 2018).
Summarising their findings in a press release, the ICO’s investigations came to the following conclusions:
- The Gangs Matrix does not clearly distinguish between the approach to victims of gang-related crime and the perpetrators, leading to confusion amongst those using it;
- An operating model that was unclear and inconsistently applied across the boroughs, with some good practice in some areas but poor practice elsewhere;
- Some boroughs operated informal lists of people who had been removed from the Gangs Matrix, meaning that the MPS continued to monitor people even when intelligence had shown that they were no longer active gang members;
- Excessive processing of data as a result of blanket sharing with third parties that failed to distinguish between those on the Gangs Matrix assessed as high-risk and those as low risk, with the potential for disproportionate action to be taken against people no longer posing a risk;
- Serious breaches of data protection laws with the potential to cause damage and distress to the disproportionate number of young, black men on the Matrix;
- The absence of a Equality Impact Assessment that would enable MPS to show it had considered in this context the issues of discrimination or equality of opportunity;
- An absence, over several years, of effective central governance, oversight or audit of data processed as part of the Gangs Matrix, resulting in risk of damage or distress to those on it;
- The absence of information sharing agreements governing the purpose and use of the data by those third parties and insufficient guidance about how the third parties should handle and use the data. This led to the increased potential for an inconsistent approach and harm to data subjects.
Information sharing between partner agencies
One key area of concern regarding the use of the matrix was the sharing of information with partner agencies. This was addressed in Amnesty’s report:
Data sharing between the police and other government agencies means that this stigmatising ‘red flag’ can follow people in theirTrapped in the Matrix – Page 2
interaction with service providers, from housing to education, to job centres. It is important to examine the impact this has on their rights.
The consequences of having your name in the matrix include losing access to important public services. The stigma of being on the matrix can follow you around, impacting the trajectory of the rest of your life. @King_Che_W spoke out against this on Twitter:
The ICO confirmed in its press release that it is in the process of investigating the use of the Gangs Matrix in more detail by examining how information is shared with and used by partner agencies.
Further, according to the ICO, ‘The MPS already has an action plan underway and has stopped sharing personal data on the Gangs Matrix with third parties, where there is no individual sharing agreement in place’ (ICO press release, November 16 2018).
Next steps: cleaning up the Matrix
The ICO set out steps that should be taken by the MPS to ensure the Gangs Matrix is compliant with data protection laws. These include:
- Improving guidance to explain what constitutes a gang member and the intelligence required to demonstrate gang membership;
- Ensuring people’s data on the Gangs Matrix is clearly identified, to distinguish between victims of crime and actual or suspected offenders;
- Erasing any informal lists of people who no longer meet the Gangs Matrix criteria;
- Developing guidance in relation to the use of social media as a source of ‘verifiable intelligence’;
- Ensuring that any Gangs Matrix information shared with partner agencies is done so securely and proportionately; and
- Conducting a Data Protection Impact Assessment of the Gangs Matrix.
Hopefully with more transparency the MPS’ Gangs Matrix will become less of a burden upon the lives of young black boys who should not be penalised for affiliation with violent crime. Overall, the news of the ICO’s finding was warmly welcomed amongst those campaigning for fair and transparent use of police investigative powers:
It is worth reading the ICO’s press release in full as well as the Trapped in the Matrix report. The Gangs Matrix continues to affect thousands of young peoples’ lives. With the ICO setting out clear targets for the MPS, all that is left is to see whether the MPS will implement the changes set out in the Enforcement Notice.
We have a Brexit deal…apparently?
Before we get started, here is a quick video to explain the Brexit jargon:
What is a Brexit deal and why do we need one?
Firstly, some context. As part of triggering Article 50, the Prime Minister has two years to negotiate with the European Commission to produce an agreement setting out the conditions of the United Kingdom’s withdrawal. If no Withdrawal agreement is negotiated before the two year deadline, the former Member State will crash out of the European Union.
For a clear explanation on the procedure of withdrawal from the European Union, here is a video produced by Channel 4 News:
The Deal – or no deal?
Things got off to a rocky start, with multiple Cabinet Ministers choosing to resign rather than support the Prime Minister’s proposed deal. Worryingly, this included Dominic Raab, the Minister who was in charge of producing the deal as the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union (aka the ‘Brexit’ Secretary).
What’s in the Deal?
In the interests of keeping things simple, I won’t (dare) delve into the nitty gritty of what the deal contains. Broadly, it covers three main issues: (1) the financial settlement between the UK and the EU, also known as the ‘Divorce Bill’; (2) rights of UK and EU citizens post-withdrawal; (3) how a ‘hard border’ will be prevented between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Here are some important things to take away from the draft withdrawal agreement:
References are made to the paragraphs contained in the ‘Explainer’ document
- The UK has estimated the Divorce Bill to stand at around £35-39 billion (para. 128);
- UK nationals lawfully residing in a Member State and EU nationals lawfully resident in the UK may stay following the implementation period. Family members resident in the host state by 31 December 2020 are also covered (para. 28);
- The right to reside for both UK citizens in a Member State and EU citizens living in the UK will be secured after 5 years continuously and lawfully residing there (para. 29);
- Workers and employed people will be guaranteed “broadly” the same rights as they have now (para. 33);
- EU citizens living in the UK and UK citizens living in a Member State will still retain the right to Equal treatment: “They will have broadly the same entitlements to work, study and access public services and benefits as now where these entitlements have derived from UK membership of the EU” (para. 34);
- (Somehow) there won’t be a ‘hard border’ between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and no divide in the UK customs territory (para. 163).
TDLR News UK summarised the deal in a very helpful and concise video which I thoroughly suggest you watch:
How has the deal been received?
Responses to the deal have been mixed:
So, what now?
The next stage is for the Prime Minister’s deal to pass through the EU Summit, which takes place on the 25th November 2018. Following this, the proposed deal must make it through the House of Commons. We’ll have to wait and see what happens next, as reassuring as that isn’t.
Home Secretary admits 11 people died after being wrongfully deported as part of the Windrush Scandal
Sajid Javid has admitted that the death toll for individuals of the Windrush generation who were wrongfully deported now stands at 11 known deaths. In total there are 83 known cases of individuals being deported and it is suspected there may be a further 81 cases. It was later reported that the figures on the known cases may actually be incorrect as individuals had been mis-labelled as criminals by the Government.
Gathering information on the scale of the scandal has been a challenge. For more, read this interview of Amelia Gentleman, a journalist who has been at the forefront of reporting on the Windrush Scandal.
Stop and Search will retain reasonable grounds of suspicion requirement
Many people were worried this week after reports circulated that the requirement that police have reasonable ground of suspicion before conducting a stop and search may be removed. Allegedly, Police Chiefs were in talks to scrap the condition.
The news brought back memories of section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 and Liberty and StopWatch’s campaign to end the use of suspicion-less stop and search. Liberty went on to win a landmark victory in Gillan and Quinton v UK, where the Court of Human Rights ruled that section 44 violated Article 8 of the ECHR (the right to respect for private life) because the power was so broad that it failed to provide safeguards against abuse.
However, it was later confirmed that no such change will occur which was a major relief:
Jermain Jackman explained on Twitter why removing the requirement of reasonable grounds of suspicion would be dangerous:
First live stream in the Court of Appeal (Civil Division)
Finally, the first live stream from the Court of Appeal (Civil Division) happened on Thursday 15th November. WH Holding Limited & Anr -v- E20 Stadium LLP concerned a dispute over the number of fans West Ham United Football Club can allow into the former Olympic stadium for matches. Subscribe to the Judiciary’s YouTube channel and watch the live stream below: