South Yorkshire police officers investigated over alleged computer misuse

The investigation came to light under a Freedom of Investigation Act (FoI) request by the Yorkshire Post newspaper group, which found that, of the 56 police officers investigated, 15 were given advice about their behaviour, 10 received written warnings, four were placed on management action plans and one officer resigned before any proceedings had started.

The FoI request also revealed that around 400 police officers and civilian staff have left the service, or been disciplined for computer misuse over the last five years.

Alleged offences included unauthorised access to police computer database information, through to the downloading of `inappropriate' downloading of internet material.

News of the computer misuse came as no surprise, said security expert Tim Ellsmore, whose company 3ami, has supplied audit, compliance and control technology to a number of organisations, including police forces, across the UK.

Ellsmore said that protective monitoring of police systems is now necessary to uphold the laws of a digital network

"With more than 239 000 police officers employed in the UK, as well as larger numbers of civilian staff, it's inevitable that human nature will rear its ugly head," he said.

"Good audit software helps police management enforce the laws of their digital network and prevent this type of situation from causing embarrassment and the suspension or dismissal of otherwise good members of staff," he added.

According to Ellsmore he realises how hard police forces are working, and have been working, to make true data accountability a reality in the UK.

The 3ami managing director went on to say that the problem with those police forces that do not fully monitor the activity on their computer networks have no real way of knowing whether officers - or civilian staff - are misusing the data they have access to.

They could, he explained, be forwarding that data to third parties or even using the network to conduct personal business when they should be working.

Then, he went on say, there are also the issues of viruses and malware, as well as hacker attacks, attempting to subjugate data on the police computer network, for usually criminal means.

3ami recently conducted a survey into senior police officers' concerns about data security at UK police forces.

Ellsmore said that the security required goes beyond controlling who has access to what data and at what times.

The survey - conducted among senior police officers at a major conference last year - found that all respondents were in favour of audit and controls on police computer resources.

96% said they believed abuse and/or misuse of UK police systems occurred "frequently."

The survey also found that inadequate staffing and the lack of an effective digital audit trail were the two biggest barriers to investigating police officers or staff members suspected of illegal or inappropriate computer activity.

Ellsmore said that both of these barriers could be mitigated - or removed altogether - with the effective use of a comprehensive computer activity monitoring and auditing package.

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