The Information Commission has warned that it will take action against police forces if they don't improve the quality of data in the Police National Computer (PNC).
A report by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabularies (HMIC) into the quality of data on the PNC has revealed massive delays in adding data about convictions to the system.
PNC data will underpin the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB), set up to help employers identify offenders such as paedophiles trying to get work with children. A delay in adding information to the PNC means that previous offenders may go undetected.
The Metropolitan Police had 80,893 cases that had not been put into the PNC as of August 2001, while Greater Manchester had 25,371 cases still to input, and may take until August to get up to date. Nottinghamshire, Thames Valley and British Transport Police were also criticised by the HMIC report.
Jonathan Bamford, assistant Information Commissioner, said: "The effort put in by these forces has been inadequate or inconsistent.
"What we are concerned to ensure - particularly in the case of the CRB - is that the data minimises the risk of non-compliance with the Data Protection Act, and that the aim of stopping undesirable people working with children is not frustrated.
"It requires continued commitment. From the Information Commission point of view we will look at whether the voluntary efforts are sufficient or whether we could back that up with enforcement powers.
"If we have no confidence that forces will take action we will use our enforcement powers."
An enforcement notice sets deadlines for data controllers to take action. It is legally binding and it becomes a criminal offence not to comply.
Bamford said that action could be taken against the CRB. "The CRB will be processing data. If we feel there is a deficiency then we have the power to take action. But that's a bridge we haven't come to," he explained.
The HMIC report found that officers ignore the PNC. "Many front-line officers had 'given up' on the PNC. Local systems using modern software were seen as more relevant to their needs," it said.
The failure to develop a standard Custody and Case Preparation system, and the uncertainty caused by the delays to the upgrade of IT systems at magistrates' courts, was also blamed for delays.
"It is difficult for forces to plan for procurement of vital IT applications without some degree of confidence that national systems will be rolled out in time," said the report.
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