Police Scotland memo authorised collection of phone numbers for national database during stop-and-searches

Police Scotland has been collecting and storing the phone numbers of people its officers have frisked under stop and search powers – including searches which revealed no criminality.

A secret memo from last year gave the single force the power to record phone numbers and store them in its national search database, the Sunday Herald reports.

The stop and search policy has come under intense scrutiny over the past year with the recorded number of searches between 2013 and 2014 being over 600,000 – a figure proportionately far higher than in London or New York.

About 75 per cent of all searches were “consensual” or “non-statutory” as they are also known, meaning they are without legal basis and are not based on reasonable suspicion.

While the practice is expected to be abolished it was previously not known that Police Scotland had added phone numbers to the types of information officers can record as part of frisks.

Before July 2014 names and addresses were recorded in addition to whether an item such as a knife or drugs were found.

But a memo sent by assistant chief constable Malcolm Graham intended to reform the policy during its pilot in Fife was sent to all division commanders and gave them the option of taking individuals’ phone numbers.

In his memo, Mr Graham wrote: “I would be grateful if the content of this memorandum could be brought to the attention of all staff and officers under your command.”

The numbers can only be taken with the consent of the individual.

The Sunday Herald said it was initially told the policy was only adopted in the Fife pilot area but that a spokesperson for the single force later clarified this by saying it was “intended” to be for Fife, adding: “Numbers may have been recorded in other divisions if these were provided voluntarily by individuals stop searched.

“As the memo states the facility was set up on the National Stop Search IT application to support the ‘P’ Division Stop and Search pilot, where numbers were provided voluntarily, to check its effectiveness, improve transparency and seek feedback, but the recording of numbers was not mandatory.”

Professor Alan Miller, the chair of the Scottish Human Rights Commission (pictured), said: “The commission has some concerns about whether people who have been stopped and searched by the police are in a position to give informed consent to a request to provide their phone number.

“A better alternative would be to provide them with a way of getting in touch with Police Scotland, should they wish to do so.

“We repeat our call for the practice of non-statutory stop and search to be brought to an end immediately given that it lacks a legal framework.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokesperson Alison McInnes said: “Police Scotland needs to explain to what extent it has been recording the telephone numbers of those it has stopped and searched.

“Have the telephone numbers collected outwith Fife been used for any purpose?

“Does the national force intend for the collection of phone numbers to become standard practice or will this option be scrapped once the Fife pilot has concluded?

“Time and again it has been demonstrated that there are insufficient safeguards around the use of this controversial tactic.”

Share icon
Share this article: