A new United Kingdom policy being introduced by the National Police Chiefs’ Council — in conjunction with the Crown Prosecution Service — will require rape victims to grant police full access to their mobile phones. But officials claim that the move, which The Telegraph reports is being introduced to create consistency in the approach to complex sex offenses in England and Wales, could give frontline officers an unmanageable workload.
Under the new policy, victims will be asked to sign consent forms that give police officers the ability to download, examine, and disclose any relevant information and material that is deemed in relation to a “reasonable line of inquiry” from their smartphones and social media accounts.
The policy has received backlash — not just from people claiming it will prevent women from coming forward, out of fear of their private life being exposed — but also from critics who believe it will place a bigger burden on officers. These critics say that officers will be “left carrying the can” if they miss important information hidden in the massive amounts of data carried on the average smartphone.
Simon Kempton, who is the lead for operational policing for the Police Federation, pointed to the fact that many people have multiple social media accounts — including Facebook, Snapchat, and WhatsApp, among others.
“You might have communications between more than just the suspect and the victim that need examining,” he said.
“That is a huge amount of data and that could end up being the job of one person to sort through. That officer will also be juggling various other live investigations, so any significant increase in the workload with the current resources, will be unsustainable.”
Max Hill, the Director of Public Prosecutions, supports the new policy. He claims that phones will only be asked for when “reasonable lines of inquiry” have been identified. He assured those concerned that police and prosecutors will not be able to use the policy to examine phone data “speculatively.”
However, Labour MP Harriet Harman said there is evidence that victims of stranger rape are being asked to provide their phones to the police after filing a complaint. She said that one sexual assault victim emailed her and said that police demanded she provide all social media accounts, photographs, and online conversations dated back within five years.
“I had no prior or subsequent contact with the attacker,” the victim’s email read. The victim went on to elaborate upon her personal account.
“I lie awake at night worrying about the details of private conversations with friends, boyfriends, business contacts and family that are now in the hands of the police.”
“It is a gross intrusion of my privacy and theirs. I feel completely as if I am the one on trial,” the email continued.