UK Law Enforcement Data Service (LEDS): the new police mega-database

The Home Office is currently developing a UK-wide police 'super-database' containing a vast amount of data, which mixes both evidential and intelligence material. Here is why PI is concerned about LEDS and what we are doing about it.

Photo by King's Church International on Unsplash

The Law Enforcement Data Service (LEDS) is a unified, common interface to a new mega-database currently being developed by the Home Office National Law Enforcement Data Programme (NLEDP).

LEDS is a new platform, which will replace and combine the existing Police National Database (PND) and the Police National Computer (PNC). The vision of the Home Office is to provide police and others a super-database, with on-demand, at the point of need access, containing up-to-date and linked information about individuals’ lives.

By combining datasets which are currently siloed, the information routinely provided by LEDS will be much broader than the current single database searches. The Home Office expects the first stage of LEDS to be operational by late 2020, and will continue to add further data sources through to 2023, and beyond.

What's the problem?

LEDS will contain a significant amount of data previously reserved for intelligence rather than evidential purposes.

The nature of intelligence material is such that it is very unlikely to ever be subject to scrutiny or challenge. To the extent that the intelligence material is inaccurate, those inaccuracies may go un-corrected for a considerable period of time – if ever.

The prospect of the integration of these databases with other data sources provides a further, rich source of potential “watchlist” images.

Once operational, the Home Office will not be able to control police or others’ use of LEDS. They would not, for instance, be able to prevent the downloading of images for other purposes.

Granting such broad access to information, absent further legal safeguards, will negatively affect the trust between citizens, the police, and other agencies.

Establishment of LEDS risks leading to over-policing, further embedding distrust in the police of individuals from ethnic minorities and migrant backgrounds, as well as those who are in vulnerable positions, such as trafficking victims or missing persons.

What does this mean for our rights?

We believe that the development of the programme poses a threat to privacy and other rights and must be subjected to strong oversight, safeguards, and transparency measures.

Numerous agencies and organisations will have access to the information on LEDS, which can be utilised in a way negatively affecting individuals’ lives, employment, state benefits, immigration status, and will only become more intrusive as data sources continue to be added.

A single interface to numerous diverse databases provides much more information than would traditionally be expected for policing – including immigration status, driving licences, and material gathered from intelligence. This can lead to encroachments on privacy.

What are we doing?

Since 2018 PI - alongside other civil society organisations - has been involved in LEDS stakeholder meetings with the Home Office and the College of Policing.

PI has written to three Parliamentary Committees (the Science and Techonology Commitee, the Home Affairs Commitee and the Joint Commitee on Human Rights) urging them to review the development of LEDS and its Code of Practice. Numerous organisations supported our letters, since this is the only parliamentary oversight that LEDS will be subject to prior to its launch.

In June 2020, the College of Policing announced a public consultation into the LEDS Code of Practice, a crucial policy which outlines how the database is to be used and protected. The public consultation is open until 9th September 2020. PI is urging anyone with an interest in LEDS to submit their views to the College of Policing.