Can the Police retention of information on football fans breach a fan’s right to privacy?

Are you a football fan?

Have you been

  • given a section 27 dispersal notice?
  • filmed coming out of the train station?
  • stop searched on your way to a football match?

If yes,  your personal data is possibly being held by the Police.

What is meant by Personal Data?

Personal data can be anything which identifies you, so a record of your name, address, description, photographs or video footage all amount to personal data.

How is it held?

Most police force Football Policing Units keep an intelligence database on fans who are considered to be ‘risk fans’.  In other words, fans who are suspected of causing disorder.  In addition there is a nationwide database which contains information on public order and which contains details of some football fans activities, and the Police National Computer which contains information on all arrests, cautions, PNDs, convictions.  This data can be held for years, particularly as a football banning order can contain information going back up to 10 years.

S0 what does this mean for football fans?

If you have been involved in violence or disorder, or been cautioned or convicted of an offence then your data will definitely be held on the PNC and you cannot challenge this as you fall in to the same category as every other person who has been cautioned or convicted of an offence.  The PNC is in the process of being updated so that it can hold much more information, and I am sure that everyone reading this will accept that the Police should have a tool to assist in their investigations, and to prevent crime.

However, it is the retention of a football fan’s data merely due to the fact that they are a football fan which can be argued as being disproportionate.  If you are a fan who regularly attends football matches, have never been cautioned or convicted of an offence and have never been involved in disorder, is it fair that your data should be held by the Police?  For instance, some police forces have a practice of stopping fans as they come out of a convenient store, and asking them to stand against the wall so that they can be video’d to record what they are wearing.  Most are asked their names and addresses, and some are asked to roll up their sleeves to show any tattoos they may have.  The question then has to be, why is this data being taken in the first place as the fan has done nothing more than walk out of a shop with a can of soda in their hand, and secondly what happens to this recording – is it destroyed or retained?

There are many examples of retention of data by the Police on football fans, and too many to mention here, but I have heard  of cases where a fan has been ejected from a football ground by a steward, without police involvement, only to find they are then taken into a room in the football ground where the police have taken their details and fingerprints, but they have not been arrested or charged with any offence.  Fans given a section 27 dispersal notices as they exit a pub on their way to the ground, who claim they have done nothing wrong, and who have a season ticket in their hand, who then find that the Football Club have cancelled their season ticket, as the Police have informed the Club about the Section 27 dispersal notice.

While there are information sharing agreements between football clubs and police forces, and to a certain extent there is a need for such agreements, many fans do not know how much sharing of their information is actually going on. In many cases, a fan has no idea until they are served with an application for a football banning order and they note that incidents from five or six years ago are mentioned in the application.

Obtaining and retaining personal data in some cases can breach a persons right to privacy

Last week the Court of Appeal in the case of Catt ruled that the surveillance and retention of details of a persons attendance at protests was a breach of his right to privacy.  While the Court of Appeal did not say that every act of surveillance and data retention by the police was unlawful (as clearly the police have to be able to carry out surveillance  to prevent crime, including acts of terrorism and serious disorder, and they must keep that information so that they have evidence to prove the case in court), the Court decided that the surveillance of a protester’s activities and the retention of this information must be proportionate to the aim.  In other words, keeping photos and video of protesters who regularly attend protests and are violent is proportionate to the need to protect the public, but keeping the same on a peaceful protester who has never shown and signs of violence or committing any kind of crime is a breach of that protester’s right to privacy.

What can a fan do if they think their right to privacy is being breached?

It is not an easy task for a fan to find out what data is held on them, and where.  Due to the fact that fans travel around the country to watch their team play, there may be data held on a fan by more then one police force.  In addition the data may be held on a the different databases as mentioned above.  The best way to start is to make a Data Protection Act request (also known as a subject access request) to the police force where the home team’s football intelligence unit is held as this is most likely where a fan’s data will be held.  A freedom of information request can be made to the police force to ask how they share football fan information may assist in identifying other databases where a fan’s information may be held.  This Merseyside Police  Freedom of Information request gives an indication of the types of question that should be raised in a freedom of information request –  Merseyside Police Freedom Of Information Information on fans data held and football banning orders

What is the difference between a Data Protection Act request and a Freedom of Information request?

In basic terms, if a fan wants to find out what data is held on them personally this will be a Data Protection Act request (subject access request).  A form for this can be found on the police forces websites. This type of request can also be made to  individual football clubs.  If a fan wants to find out general information about where football fan data is held, or who the police force shares the information with, this is a Freedom of Information request.

What can a fan do if they find that private information is being held about them by the Police or the Football Club?

A complaint should firstly be made to whoever is holding the data, asking them to remove it from their systems and confirm it has been destroyed.  If this is not successful, then in the case of data held by the police, a complaint can be made to either the Independent Police Complaints Commission or the Office of the Information Commissioner.  In cases of data being held by the football club, a complaint should be made to the Office of the Information Commissioner.

Above all it must be remembered that the Police have a job to do, and that they are justified in holding information on some fans, and likewise the Football Club may be able to justify holding certain information on football fans, such as the seat numbers for season ticket holders, but a fan also has a right to privacy and to ensure that information on them is not being held or shared for no reason.  The fact a person choses to spend their free time at football matches does not mean they have given up their right to privacy.

About gurdena

Social Justice Barrister, interested in all things contentious & anything criminal justice related including prisoners and complaints against the police. Specialising in criminal law - mainly sex, violence, and football fans (not necessarily all 3 at the same time!). Represents people facing death penalty in the USA. Associate Member at Drystone Chambers

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