Britain’s data watchdog has launched a high priority investigation into the use in court of sex offence victims' personal information gathered from electronic devices, amid claims their lives are unfairly put on trial.
Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham has responded to calls for an urgent investigation after victims' groups claimed that unnecessary personal information gathered from laptops, smartphones and tablets by police is being aired in court.
This follows concerns voiced by the National Police Chief’s Council and human rights group Big Brother Watch that victims may not come forward if irrelevant details about their personal lives are revealed in public.
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) said: "We believe it’s important to track the journey victims’ information takes through the criminal justice system, from allegation, through disclosure and onto any compensation application that may be made.
"This is to identify areas where victims’ information is most vulnerable or where processing may be excessive and disproportionate."
Andy White, the director of high priority investigations at the ICO, is understood to be leading the investigation and will work with the police and courts as well as victims’ groups to determine new guidelines for police and courts.
Big Brother Watch argued earlier this year that the collection of digital material should be restricted to the relevant evidence, and that the current handling of digital evidence in rape prosecutions risks putting victims’ private lives on trial.
Griff Ferris, legal and policy officer at Big Brother Watch, said: "We welcome the Information Commissioner's announcement of a high priority investigation into demands for rape victims' mobile phones and private records.
"We also urge the police and the CPS to take action to protect victims of rape from these digital investigations, which are swamping police in irrelevant information and obstructing the prosecution of potentially dangerous offenders.
"Treating victims like suspects is an affront to justice and a serious breach of people's privacy rights. This broken system must be changed."
The NPCC claimed that police investigations would be slowed down because of having to deal with masses of digital information.
Chairwoman Sara Thornton argued earlier this year that police should discuss what reasonable lines of inquiry might come from laptops, tablets and smartphones with prosecutors at an earlier stage.