Police data abuses difficult to safeguard despite new systems

Pulse-like solutions still questioned by groups concerned about data privacy


This July Accenture signed a 10-year agreement with Police Scotland to develop and maintain a new “operational policing system”.

A modern update of the Pulse platform which the company built for the Garda more than a decade ago, i6 as it has been christened, will streamline “in the region of 120 different systems into one” in Scotland.

However, Accenture’s global managing director for defence and public safety, Ger Daly, admits there’s no guarantee about privacy and abuse concerns.

“I don’t know if you can ever prevent anybody from [carrying out] malicious work,” concedes Daly, “but at least if you can see it happening you can detect it.”

Earlier this year Garda members apparently used the Pulse service to look up details of individuals who had carried out no criminal offences or, indeed, to expunge penalty points from motorists’ licences.

Personal data
All of which led to Minister for Justice Alan Shatter asking the Garda to ensure the database was not to “be used as some sort of social network to be accessed out of curiosity by members of the force”.

Joe McNamee, EU advocacy co-ordinator with the European Digital Rights group, told The Irish Times that “the protection of personal data is in a state of permanent chaos in Ireland”, but that in a “well regulated” environment IT platforms of the type which Accenture built for police forces can be effective.

For his part, Daly says that with regard to the Pulse transgressions, every change made or file accessed within the system is “fully logged and audited”, and that “typically as an officer you need to put in a reason as to why you’re inquiring [about] something”.

Police Scotland’s deputy chief constable Neil Richardson certainly has faith in the new system, saying at the time of the project’s launch it would “increase the ability of our officers to fight crime and be more visible in our communities”. Daly says i6 will “manage policing from detecting incidents, creating warrants, charging someone, recording bail” and more, resulting in radical efficiency benefits.

“Think about the poor officer coming in off the street, recording an incident and then having to look up even close to a tenth of those 120 different [IT- and paper-based] information sources in order to check for something.”

The new system will, he adds, create a “golden record” for those in the system and a “single, integrated information source” for officers.

Having helped create the Pulse “information management system” in 1999, similar solutions have since been deployed in Spain, Norway and Sweden, while the company is currently working with numerous police forces in Europe, North America, Africa, Asia and Australia.

The past decade has seen Accenture make its presence known in the immigration sector as well, most notably helping create the technical backbone for the United States Visitor and Immigrant Status indicator Technology (US-Visit) programme.

The gargantuan system identifies 5,000 illegal United States visitors daily, with more than 75,000 “wanted felons” identified and detained in the last seven years. All told, it processes 250,000 “identity matches” a day against a database of 136 million individuals.

However, again there has been concerns about how this particular platform operates, with executive director of Privacy International Gus Hosein saying US-Visit “still has no clear understanding of how it’s supposed to work”, citing the decision to “collect fingerprints on the way in but not on the way out” as an example of the inconsistencies within the system.

Right now, Accenture is working on the six-month self-service automated border control trial at Terminal 1 in Dublin Airport, along with telecommunications company SITA, border control biometrics leaders Vision Box, the Dublin Airport Authority and the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service.

Legal frameworks
Attempting to speed up entry clearance processes, the “e-gates” as they’re also known, began service in May, allowing certain passport holders from around the EU and Switzerland who are over 18 years of age to pass through immigration by scanning their passport photo to verify their identity rather than presenting themselves to an immigration officer.

Already providing automated border clearance solutions at airports, such as London Heathrow and Schiphol in Amsterdam, Daly says the idea is create “more real estate” within the airport by lessening the space used for passport controls. “If you have the right technology you can increase the level of security at the border. It’s a very strategic thing for Ireland to pilot and put into production,” he adds.”

Hosein, though, has another note of caution for such ideas, adding that in the case of e-gates and policing databases such as Pulse and i6 “it’s not always immediate that the use of technology will make things better.”

This article was amended on Friday, September 6th to change the relationship between parties involved in the contract at Dublin airport Terminal 1.