Serious data errors have led to invasive investigations into innocent people over serious sex offences and murder, a report has revealed. In one case, children were separated from their parents after police got the address wrong.
The errors were revealed in a report by the Interception of Communications Commissioner, Sir Stanley Burnton, who said the errors had “appalling” consequences, using some of the most intrusive powers a government can use against its own citizens.
The errors were mostly due to incorrect data entered into police software that helps track specific IP (Internet Protocol) addresses. IP addresses are essentially digital signatures that reveal where a computer connected to the internet is based.
Innocent people had their homes or mobile devices searched on seven occasions, while two people were arrested by police for child sexual exploitation due to police targeting a similar IP address by mistake.
Police also contacted the wrong person in a murder investigation after their telephone number was copied down incorrectly.
In one particular case, two children were removed from their parents’ care for a weekend in a child sexual exploitation case, when police raided the wrong address as a result of a documentation error.
Sir Stanley Burnton said mistakes such as these were “far more common than is acceptable, especially in cases relating to child sex exploitation.”
“The impact on some victims of these errors has been appalling,” he said. “In some cases, [it has] been enormous. People have been arrested for crimes relating to child sexual exploitation. Their children have been taken into care, and they have had to tell their employers.”
The report of the Interception of Communications for 2016, revealed 29 serious errors were made by those with “intrusive powers” – in other words, 0.004 percent of the applications made by those with power to detain people or search their phones, other digital devices, or personal property.