UK Privacy Tsar: Stop Excessive Data Collection from Rape Victims

The UK’s privacy watchdog has called for an end to excessive data collection from victims of rape and serious sexual assault cases, claiming that it breaches data protection laws.

In a strongly worded Commissioner’s Opinion, new information commissioner John Edwards said he expected the practice to stop immediately, while making recommendations on how data should be handled in such cases.

“Our investigation reveals an upsetting picture of how victims of rape and serious sexual assault feel treated. Victims are being treated as suspects, and people feel revictimized by a system they expect to support them,” he said.

“Change is required to rebuild trust that will enable more victims to seek the justice to which they’re entitled. I know the sector will support these recommendations. Change is possible and it must happen. The law requires it and my office will push for it.”

Evidence suggests that excessive collection of highly personal and often irrelevant information – including school, medical and social service records – can lead to victims withdrawing their allegations.

The process, known as a “Stafford statement” in England and Wales, also puts more personal data at risk of being accidentally leaked or breached by outsiders. Data minimization is a key tenet of the GDPR.

CEO of Rape Crisis England & Wales, Jayne Butler, argued that the ICO’s recommendations will help police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) prioritize victims’ rights.

“For far too long the police and CPS have been requesting, and at times, demanding unreasonable and excessive amounts of personal data from rape victims and survivors. It feels like to report a rape is to effectively give up your right to privacy: to expect justice you must expect scrutiny,” she said.

“The commissioner’s recommendations have the potential to drastically improve the experiences of victims and survivor’s going through the criminal justice process.”

The ICO claimed that the current process has led to alarmingly low charge and conviction rates for serious sexual offenses. Moreover, victims of rape are more likely to be female, have a disability and identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual, it added.

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