Thursday, May 11, 2023

The police lied in an OIA response again

In November last year, sparked by Newsroom revealing systematic police racism in its taking of DNA samples, I asked the police for some basic information on their compliance with the Criminal Investigations (Bodily Samples) Act 1995. As usual, they ghosted me; then, after intervention from the Ombudsman, they finally responded saying that they didn't know. In other words, they had no procedure for removing profiles, and no statistics on whether they were complying with the Act or not.

Today, I'm glad to say that they lied. After further intervention by the Ombudsman (sparked by ESR saying that there were policies and procedures), the police have finally admitted that they do have procedures, and even specially-designed software (though it can't generate full compliance statistics). This is comforting to know - the police might be obeying the law after all - but at the same time, deeply discomforting. Because it means that their initial response to my request was incorrect. And when the person responsible for the request is the acting manager of national forensic services, who can be expected to be fully aware of the existence of those procedures and software, its difficult to view it as anything other than a deliberate, blatant lie.

This isn't the first time the police have done this. In June 2022 the Ombudsman caught them forging documents in an OIA response to hide numbers they didn't want released. There's also the case where they lied to the public about carbon-neutrality, then lied about needing "consultations" to extend an OIA timeline so they could create documents to hide that lie. And there will no doubt be other cases. The overall impression is of an organisation which is deeply hostile to transparency, believes that the public has no right to know, and will lie and commit fraud to cover up even the most trivial details. And that's a problem. Firstly, because the entire OIA regime is predicated on truth, and simply does not work if agencies lie. And secondly, because this is the police, an agency utterly dependent on public trust in order to function effectively. Every time they lie to us, that trust is broken.

We deserve better than this. We deserve a government, and a police force, we can trust. Sadly, we're not getting either under the current regime.