The Police Told His Boss About His Short Skirt Computer Pics

This week, our human rights stories are about the right to privacy.

In 2009, a woman disappeared. As usual, police interviewed the people she knew. Mr A was one of those people. Mr A was not a suspect in the murder inquiry. However, during a search of his phone records and computer, police found a large volume of pornography. Mr A had also employed prostitutes and spent over £4,000 on phone sex chat lines. None of this, of course, is illegal. However, included in the material were images taken of short-skirted women on the street, apparently from A’s car, and a photograph of his young, female neighbour sunbathing in her back garden. Still not illegal, but concerning at the least.

So concerning, in fact, that the police decided to tell Mr A’s employers about what they had found. Mr A was employed by a university, a counselling service and a student union. The police officer in charge, a constable of over 20 years’ experience, concluded from this that Mr A posed a danger to women, and his employers should be informed.

Article 8 of the Convention protects people’s private life from interference by public authorities except where necessary to ensure public safety, national security, crime prevention, etc. So, the question was whether it was justified for the police to disclose the information based only on a suspicion that Mr A could commit a crime in future.

Mr Justice Langstaff, a High Court judge, decided that the police had been wrong to tell Mr A’s employers. Mr A had not done anything illegal. Nor was his behaviour, although disturbing, enough for the police to be sufficiently certain that he would commit a future crime. The problem with disclosing information based on a relatively unfounded suspicion we could wind up having our private information spread far and wide. The right to privacy is fundamental. Police have to have a really good reason for breaching it.

This story is a short summary of a legal decision. You can read the full text here