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UK report details police data breaches, including suspect tip-offs

The report reveals more than 2,300 data breaches by police staff over a five-year period in the UK, just as the government is trying to expand data-gathering.

A new report reveals that some British police office have been caught sharing data with untrustworthy types.

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If you've got nothing to hide, you've got nothing to fear, so say advocates of government surveillance. That's unless less-than-squeaky-clean police officers decide to sell your data or unless you've got a funny name and an officer tries to Snapchat your driving license to mates.

That's just a flavour of the 2,315 data breaches involving UK police forces in the past five years revealed in a 137-page report (PDF) released this week by surveillance activists Big Brother Watch. The breaches ranged in seriousness from losing files to tipping off suspects to selling data to third parties.

Among the incidents, one officer from Essex was caught abusing his position to enter into relationships with women, apparently using police checks to find out information about them. Another police force left hundreds of evidence tapes in an old police station after it was taken over by a new owner.

The thousands of incidents took place between June 2011 and December 2015. Overall, the figures reveal that 258 police officers or staff received a warning, and another 297 resigned or were fired. Seventy of the incidents led to a criminal conviction or caution. Another 1,283 incidents saw no disciplinary action taken.

According to the report, the West Midlands Police was the most lax with 488 data breaches, more than twice that of any other force. However, a spokesperson for West Midlands Police told CNET that in replying to the Freedom of Information request from Big Brother Watch, West Midlands had included a wider range of incidents not reported by other respondents.

A spokesperson for London's Metropolitan Police Service said it "takes data security very seriously. Employees are regularly reminded of their responsibilities and as the figures show only a small proportion of the Met's employees fail to meet the required standards....The MPS has its own 'Directorate of Professional Standards' which investigates this and similar matters. We will take affirmative action against any member of staff whose behaviour is found to have breached the high standards of behaviour that the public rightly expect."

With the report's chronicle of abuses in mind, Big Brother Watch is concerned about the collection of even more detailed data as proposed by the Investigatory Powers Bill, currently making its way through the UK government. Big Brother Watch calls for stiffer sentences for data breaches, notification of the people whose data is mishandled, and the removal of people's Internet records from the bill.

CNET contacted several other police forces named in the report. They have yet to respond to a request for comment.