Blackmail - 447/14
Dated: 03 Jul 2014
Date of request: 28/05/2014
Date of response: 24/06/2014
Provision of information held by Northumbria Police made under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (the 'Act')(FOIA)
Thank you for your email dated 28 May 2014 in which you made a request for access to certain information which may be held by Northumbria Police.
As you may be aware the purpose of the Act is to allow a general right of access to information held by a Public Authority (including the Police), subject to certain limitations and exemptions.
Under the Freedom of Information Act I would like to request information on the number of incidents of blackmail, where a webcam has been involved in some way, have been reported to the force in each of the last five years.
I would like data on the number of reports of blackmail in each of the last five years, where either "webcam", "web cam" or "video link" are mentioned in the summary of the report.
Could you provide a summary of each report and state whether the alleged victim was aged under-16, 16 to 18 or over-18.
We have now had the opportunity to fully consider your request and I provide a response for your attention.
Following receipt of your request, searches were conducted with the Strategy and Performance Department of Northumbria Police. I can confirm that the information you have requested is held by Northumbria Police.
Searches were carried out for blackmail incidents or crimes where the keywords used by you in your request were mentioned in the summary of the report. This brought back 2 disclosable incidents, which are detailed below. The information has been provided in a way which avoids the use of exemptions being applied to withhold, and will therefore not be broken down further.
2010 - 0
2011 - 0
2012 - 0
2013 - 2 - Victims perform/engages in sexual acts - offenders demand money or they will distribute recording to family/friends. Victims both over 18.
2014 - 0
Additionally Section 1 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) places two duties on public authorities. Unless exemptions apply, the first duty at Section 1(1)(a) is to confirm or deny whether the information specified in a request is held. The second duty at Section 1(1)(b) is to disclose information that has been confirmed as being held. Where exemptions are relied upon Section 17 of FOIA requires that we provide the applicant with a notice which a) states that fact, b) specifies the exemption(s) in question and c) state (if that would not otherwise be apparent) why the exemptions apply.
Northumbria Police neither confirms nor denies that it holds any other information relevant to this request by virtue of the following exemptions:
Section 23(5) Information supplied by or concerning certain Security Bodies;
Section 30(3) Investigations
Section 31(3) Law Enforcement
Section 40(5) Personal Information
Section 44(2) Prohibitions on Disclosure.
Sections 23(5) and 44(2) are class based absolute exemptions and there is no requirement to articulate to the applicant the harm in disclosure or the findings of a public interest test.
Section 30(3) is a class based qualified exemption, which means the legislators have identified a requirement to consider and articulate the public interest to the applicant.
With Section 31(3) being prejudice based and qualified, the harm (prejudice) in disclosure should be evidenced and the public interest considered, and both articulated to the applicant.
Section 40 is a class based absolute exemption.
Evidence of Harm
In order to ensure International co-operation is adhered to, it is vital that the Police Service has the ability to work together with overseas police forces and law enforcement agencies, where necessary covertly, in order to obtain intelligence within current legislative frameworks which may include information relating to exempt bodies as detailed within Section 23(3) of the Freedom of Information Act
To confirm or deny that any other information pertinent to this request is held would be extremely useful to those involved in this type of blackmail, such as organised criminal gangs, as it would enable them to map where exempt bodies are actively carrying out investigations. Such awareness would enable individuals, subject of this investigative activity, to evade detection and surveillance.
This would also damage future operational relationships between Northumbria Police and other law enforcement agencies. There is a general expectation that information held by forces and exchanged with other agencies, will be dealt with appropriately and securely in the knowledge that confidences will be maintained. To state that Northumbria Police does not hold any other information pertinent to this request would provide carte blanche to any organised criminal gang and offender that there is a serious gap in our intelligence
The prevention and detection of crime is the foundation upon which policing is built. The Police Service has a clear responsibility to prevent crime and arrest those responsible for committing crime or those that plan to commit crime. By confirming whether or not the force does or does not hold other information could directly influence the stages of that process, and jeopardise current investigations and prejudice law enforcement.
Public Interest Considerations
Factors favouring complying with Section 1(1)(a) confirming that information is held
Confirming or denying that any other information exists relevant to this request would lead to a better informed public improving their knowledge and understanding of the investigatory process involving offences of webcam blackmail. As all investigations are publicly funded, confirmation that any other information is held would provide transparency with regard to budgets that are allocated to investigate blackmail offences.
In addition, reassurance may be provided to the public that the Police Service tasks all reports of blackmail offences seriously and conducts investigations appropriately. This could allow the public to have a better understanding of the effectiveness of the Police Service.
Factors against complying with Section 1(1)(a) confirming or denying that any other information is held
The Police Service will never disclose information which could identify investigative activity and therefore undermine their investigations. To do so would hinder the prevention or detection of crime.
Confirmation that any other information is held would prejudice how investigations into webcam blackmail investigations are carried out in the future by revealing potential covert investigative activity. This again would hinder the prevention and detection of crime and affect the forces law enforcement capabilities. Confirmation would also undermine the partnership approach to investigations.
Section 31(3) Law Enforcement
Factors favouring complying with Section 1(1)(a) – confirming other information is held
By confirming or denying whether any other information relating to webcam blackmail is held would lead to better public awareness identifying that the force undertakes all avenues of investigative processes in order to tackle blackmail crime covertly. This fact may lead to more information being submitted from the public which may culminate in a reduction of crime.
Factors favouring non compliance with Section 1(1)(a)
As detailed within the harm above Northumbria Police will not confirm or deny whether any other information is held if to do so would seriously undermine the partnership approach to law enforcement.
The points above highlight the merits of confirming or denying that any other information pertinent to this request exists. The Police Service is charged with enforcing the law, preventing and detecting crime and protecting the communities we serve. As part of that policing purpose, information is gathered which can be highly sensitive. Irrespective of what other information may or may not be held, confirmation or denial that any other information is held relating to blackmail offences would identify investigative activity.
Weakening the mechanisms used to monitor any type of criminal activity, would place relations between Northumbria Police and other law enforcement agencies at risk.
Information disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act is made public to the world when released and has an impact on all areas of the country not just within the jurisdiction of one public authority. A series of disclosures would identify where ‘vulnerabilities’ have been highlighted.
From the arguments articulated above it is clear that confirmation that other information is held could enable a ‘mosaic of data’ to be drawn up identifying to members of the criminal fraternity investigative activity.
Having considered all the factors, at this moment in time, it is our opinion that for these issues the balance test favours neither confirming nor denying that any other information is held pertinent to this request.
No inference can be drawn from this refusal that other information is or isn’t held.
Due to the different methods of recording information across 43 forces, a specific response from one constabulary should not be seen as an indication of what information could be supplied (within cost) by another. Systems used for recording these figures are not generic, nor are the procedures used locally in capturing the data. For this reason responses between forces may differ, and should not be used for comparative purposes.
The information we have supplied to you is likely to contain intellectual property rights of Northumbria Police. Your use of the information must be strictly in accordance with the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 (as amended) or such other applicable legislation. In particular, you must not re-use this information for any commercial purpose.
How to complain
If you are unhappy with our decision or do not consider that we have handled your request properly and we are unable to resolve this issue informally, you are entitled to make a formal complaint to us under our complaints procedure which can be found at: http://www.northumbria.police.uk/foi/disclosurelog/foicomprights.asp
If you are still unhappy after we have investigated your complaint and reported to you the outcome, you may complain directly to the Information Commissioner’s Office and request that they investigate to ascertain whether we have dealt with your request in accordance with the Act.