A House of Lords committee has expressed major concerns over 'indefinite' data retention at the Serious Organised Crime Agency.
Soca’s ELMER database, which holds over a million and a half records on activity that may be linked to crime, was also accessible to too many organisations, said a report by the Lords EU Committee.
The ‘Money laundering: data protection for suspicious activity reports’ paper, which includes findings from the Information Commissioner, also stated that it was disproportionate for the database to contain transactions with a “very low” level of suspicion.
It criticised the fact that activities “suspected to involve property which might be laundered” were required to be reported on the database “no matter how trivial the underlying criminal offence”.
"It is important that the government considers whether the current arrangements are still effective and can still be justified,” said Lord Hannay of Chiswick, the committee's chairman.
The report comes after it was disclosed that organisations were accessing the database for other reasons, with one council allegedly using the database to help discover housing benefit fraud.
Last year, the Information Commissioner completed a year-long review that was included in the new Lords’ report.
That review said there were concerns over the length of time that suspicious activity reports were retained on the database, especially when they were judged as being of ‘no concern’. The report questioned whether the data retention breached the Human Rights Act.
“The retention of SARs which raise no ongoing law enforcement concerns and the retention of these for an indefinite period engage concerns about out whether such retention is justified, necessary and proportionate. It is difficult to conclude that this is the case,” wrote the Information Commissioner.
The commissioner also said he was “concerned” whether individuals on the system were properly informed, when their data was on the system but their case was identified as not being of concern.
The Lords’ report concluded that the reporting of suspicious activity in ELMER was “disproportionate”. It added that “if too much information is collated on low levels of suspicion the process is devalued”.