Police National Computer

If you are arrested, your details will be entered on three linked databases: the Police National Computer (PNC) records your arrest and other personal details. It contains an Arrest Summons Number (ASN) which links your PNC record to your record on the National DNA Database (which includes your DNA profile) and to the fingerprint database (known as IDENT1).

Since 2006, for the first time in British history, all police records of arrest have been kept indefinitely on the PNC unless an individual can demonstrate an 'exceptional case' for removal of their records. Anyone who is arrested for any recordable offence has a record created on the Police National Computer (PNC). Current policy is to retain all these records to age 100.

It is questionable whether the retention of all arrested persons' PNC records indefinitely is lawful. The Supreme Court found that in the case of PNC records no separate issues arose from those raised by the retention of innocent people's DNA and fingerprints.

In November 2011, Government minister Lord Henley told the House of Lords that "if the biometric data [DNA and fingerprints] is to be deleted or destroyed, then so must be the arrest record on the PNC". This suggests that innocent people's PNC records will be deleted at the same time as their records on the DNA and fingerprint databases under the Protection of Freedoms Act.

In November 2012, the European Court of Human rights issued a judgment about the indefinite retention of Police National Computer (PNC) records from a person with a caution.The Court decided the UK Government has breached the European Convention on Human Rights because there are currently no specific rules on when PNC records should be deleted and how they can be used. However, the Government has said it will appeal against this ruling.

A new computer database called the Police National Database (PND) has also been set up to make it easier for police forces to share intelligence information. It is estimated that the PND will contain information about a quarter of the UK population, including 6 million innocent people. The National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA) has provided some information about the PND here.

Why should you be concerned about your police record?

Police records can be used to refuse someone a visa or a job simply because they have a record of arrest and can lead to stigma and discrimination when accessed by officers on the beat.

Information about arrests can be released as part of a criminal record check, even if there has been no charge, caution or conviction.

The US embassy now states that anyone who has been arrested must apply for a full visa, rather than using the visa waiver scheme. Visa applicants must then pay the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) Criminal Records Office (ACRO) to release their record to the US embassy as part of the expensive and time consuming application process. This has major implications for a large proportion of the population who may no longer be able to travel freely simply because they have been arrested.

Business travellers could lose business, or even their job or a promotion, because applying for a visa can take several months and a visa can be refused simply because someone has a record of arrest.

People who were arrested as children under the previous government will be the most affected because of the large numbers of arrests for alleged minor offences (such as pulling hair and throwing snowballs) due to police targets.

ACRO charge substantial fees for releasing records of arrest to people applying for visas and criminal record checks and might be regarded as having a financial conflict-of-interest in supporting this system.

What is in the PNC record?

A person's PNC record contains their name, date of birth, sex and ethnic appearance and an arrest summons number, which is also stored in their record on the National DNA Database. Other information is also stored in the PNC record, including: whether or not a DNA sample has been taken; the arresting officer; and any convictions or arrests.

Why are people's PNC and PND records retained to age 100?

In the past, PNC records used to be deleted after 42 days if a person was not convicted. People with cautions had their records deleted after 5 years, and those with single convictions for minor offences after ten. People with multiple convictions or convictions for serious offences could have their records kept for life. There were some exceptions e.g. records from people arrested but not convicted of sexual offences could be kept for five years with the authorisation of a superintendent. (See the old ACPO weeding rules).

By 2006, these guidelines had been abandoned in favour of retention of all PNC records, from everyone arrested for any recordable offence, to age 100. The change was made as a matter of Association of Chief Police Officer (ACPO) policy and never debated by parliament. The justification provided at the time was that the police needed to retain PNC records to see whether or not they had already taken a DNA sample from an arrested individual, and to help them track an individual down in the event of a DNA match. This justification no longer applies if new legislation requires a person's record on the DNA database to be deleted.

The PNC was set up in 1995, and some records of cautions may have been removed between 2000 and 2005, but no records of convictions were removed before the policy was changed.

This affects both innocent people and people convicted of a minor offence, including children.

How do I know if I am on the PNC or PND?

Under the Data Protection Act you can make a subject access request by writing to the police force that arrested you. Ask them to send you copies of any information the hold about you on the Police National Computer (PNC) or Police National Database (PND).

Both the PNC and the National DNA Database (NDNAD) were set up in 1995, but the PNC contains records from a lot more people because DNA was not taken routinely on arrest until April 2004. The new PND will contain all the information on the PNC plus other information, some of which may come from older databases.

Is this legal?

In summer 2008, the Information Tribunal ruled that keeping records of past, spent convictions or cautions for minor offences is incompatible with the Data Protection Act and that such people should have their police records deleted. However, in 2009, the police won an appeal against this decision.

This case did not consider people who had not been convicted or cautioned for any offence, who can also be refused jobs purely on the basis of a record of arrest.

In May 2011, the Supreme Court ruled that the police procedure for retention of PNC records, DNA and fingerprints was unlawful and gave the Government a "reasonable time" to adopt new legislation in the Protection of Freedoms Act which will now come into force in October 2013. However, the Act does not explicitly include a requirement to delete PNC or PND records from innocent people (only their DNA and fingerprint records).

In November 2012, the European Court of Human rights issued a judgment about the indefinite retention of Police National Computer (PNC) records from a person with a caution.The Court decided the UK Government has breached the European Convention on Human Rights because there are currently no specific rules on when PNC records should be deleted and how they can be used.

Police Guidance on the retention of records is currently being rewritten before the provisions on DNA and fingerprints in the Protection of Freedoms Act are brought into force. These judgments will have to be taken into account by the Home Office and the police when they write the rules.

What does this have to do with the Soham murders?

Ian Huntley had been arrested multiple times for other offences before he committed the Soham murders. The Police National Database (PND) has been created to share police information between different forces in response to the findings of the Bichard Inquiry which followed the murders. However, Bichard did not recommend keeping all records of arrest until age 100: this risks swamping the system with irrelevant information as well as eroding the rights of millions of innocent people. More detail about the Huntley case and why PNC and PND records should be deleted at the same time as DNA and fingerprint records is in GeneWatch's submission to the Protection of Freedoms Bill Committee (paragraphs 23 to 29).

What will happen if I apply to have my PNC record deleted?

The small number of innocent people who make successful applications to Chief Constables under the 'exceptional cases' procedure currently have their PNC records deleted as well as their records on the DNA database and fingerprints database. On request, they also have their photographs destroyed. However, only a small number of people have successfully had their records deleted under this procedure.

What else can I do?

You can contact your MP about the need to include deletion of PNC and PND records in the Protection of Freedoms Bill.

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