UK police ask rape victims for social media content on mobile phones

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By Alastair Jamieson
UK police ask rape victims for social media content on mobile phones

Campaigners have pledged to fight a move by some British police to ask crime victims — including those alleging rape — to hand over their mobile phones and social media passwords to investigators.

Forms asking permission to access smartphones, messages, photographs and emails have been rolled out across in England and Wales.

It comes in response to a scandal over the number of serious sexual assault and rape cases that collapsed after vital evidence was not disclosed before trial.

However, the Centre for Women’s Justice (CWJ) and Big Brother Watch announced Monday they were joining forces to challenge the new policy in the courts.

Harriet Wistrich, director of the CWJ, said: “We seem to be going back to the bad old days when victims of rape are being treated as suspects.

“It is now routine for any rape complainant to be asked to provide their mobile phone data when reporting a crime. Given the amount of personal and often very intimate data stored on such devices, particularly by young women, it is not surprising that many victims who are reporting a deeply violating offence do not wish to be further exposed.”

She added: “Most complainants fully understand why disclosure of communications with the defendant is fair and reasonable, but what is not clear is why their past history, including any past sexual history, should be up for grabs.”

'Source of anxiety'

"We know that rape and sexual assault is already highly under-reported and unfortunately this news could further deter victims from coming forward to access the justice and support they deserve,” she said.

Police say the change brings consistency to a process that previously differed between each of the 43 forces across England and Wales.

Nick Ephgrave, of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, said: “We understand that how personal data is used can be a source of anxiety. We would never want victims to feel that they can’t report crimes because of ‘intrusion’ in their data. That’s why a new national form has been introduced to help police seek informed consent proportionately and consistently.”

The changes come after it emerged that the number of prosecutions collapsing because of a failure by police or prosecutors to fully disclose evidence increased by 70% in just two years.

High-profile blunders included the case of Liam Allan, from Croydon, south London, who faced 12 counts of rape and sexual assault until defence lawyers discovered that police had overlooked a computer disc showing messages from the alleged victim seeking "casual sex".