Privacy campaigners have spoken out over controversial plans where rape victims could soon be forced to hand over their mobile phones to police or risk their attacker walking free.
If victims do not allow police to access their messages, photos emails and social media accounts then prosecutions may not go ahead.
The Centre for Women’s Justice (CWJ) has expressed ‘serious concerns’ over what it calls ‘excessive disclosure requests’ being made of victims of rape and sexual assaults.
At least two complainants are now planning a legal challenge against new consent forms which ask permission to access messages, photographs, email and social media accounts.
The CWJ argues that the consent form policy discriminates based on sex, breaches the Data Protection Act and the right to privacy.
Digital strip search
Privacy campaign group Big Brother Watch told Sky News that the move was similar to a ‘digital strip search’ and people would be deterred from reporting crimes if they treated rape victims like ‘suspects’.
Personal data held on mobile phones could stretch back years and if the police download all that data, it could be held on files for a century. Private information with no bearing on the case would be held by officers.
The forms have implemented after a string of serious sexual assault and rape cases were thrown out at the last minute after crucial evidence was discovered at the last minute.
Police and prosecutors say the forms are an attempt to plug a gap in the law as currently, the police have no legal power to seize phones or digital devices – including smart watches – from a complainant.
At least 93,000 police officers have undertaken training over the past year and hope artificial intelligence technology can help trawl through the massive amounts of data stored on phones and other devices.
Prosecutors also now use disclosure protocols in rape cases previously only used in terror trials.
In 2017, the CPS launched a review of every live rape and serious sexual assault prosecution in England and Wales and, along with police, has implemented an improvement plan to try to fix failings in the system.
The move was a response to a barrage of heavy criticism faced by when a series of high-profile rape cases were dismissed when new evidence emerged at the last moment.
One trial against student Liam Allan, collapsed at Croydon Crown Court when mobile phone evidence came to light, and police subsequently apologized for their handling of the case. Allan had denied wrongdoing.
Police and prosecutors have sought to reassure victims of crime that only material relevant to a potential prosecution will be harvested, but the forms state even information of a separate criminal offence “may be retained and investigated”.