More than 900 police officers and staff from across the UK breached the Data Protection Act (DPA) over the last three years, according to a report released today by privacy watchdog, Big Brother Watch.
The campaign group obtain the figures through freedom of information requests to all of the police forces in England and Wales. This revealed that 243 people received criminal convictions and 98 were dismissed as a result of their actions.
Daniel Hamilton, the director of Big Brother Watch said it was astonishing that over 900 officers and staff had been disciplined for breaches of the DPA over just three years.
"Our investigation shows that not only have Police employees been found to have run background records checks on friends and possible partners, but some have been convicted for passing sensitive information to criminal gangs and drug dealers," he said. "This is at best hugely intrusive and, at worse, downright dangerous."
In one case, a member of the Dorset police staff resigned after disclosing information about the supply of class A drugs to a third party. In their report, Big Brother Watch said that member of staff later received a Police caution for violating the DPA and were referred to the Crown Prosecution Service for misconduct in public office.
Detective Superintendent Nora Chandler at Kent Police, the Force with the highest number of DPA related staff dismissals over the three year period in question, said it expected professionalism and honesty from its staff at all times.
"When breaches relating to the security of data are detected they are treated seriously and fully investigated," Chandler said. "We simply will not tolerate people accessing our systems for anything other than a lawful policing purpose. Any member of staff who is found to do this will face immediate and appropriate action."
Earlier this week, the Guardian newspaper reported that Scotland Yard is trying to identify "up to five officers who were paid between them a total of at least £100,000 in cash from the News of the World" in exchange for information.