Disclosure Details

Cyber Bullying - 198/12

Dated: 07 Jun 2011

Date of request: 14/02/2012

Date of response: 01/03/2012

Provision of information held by Northumbria Police made under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (the 'Act')(FOIA)

Thank you for your email dated 14th February 2012 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.

You asked: 

For the period 2010/11 would you be able to provide me with the statistics of the overall amount of reports you receive in the locality of cyber bullying, through social networking sites such as Facebook, Bebo and MySpace.

I am looking for cases such as harassment and bullying through social networking sites

In response:

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 Performance Review Department of Northumbria Police. I can confirm that the information you have requested is held by Northumbria Police.

I have decided to disclose the located information to you as follows.

A search was conducted initially based on all incidents containing the keywords (or variations of) ‘Facebook’, ‘website’, ‘Bebo’, ‘Twitter’, ‘Myspace’, ‘network’ or ‘internet’. From these results it has been necessary to read the opening text (ie, the initial allegation/report) of each incident and decided whether to include it in the results. The decision to include or not is based on the callers initial report/account only. Please note it does not take into account any police investigation. Therefore, the results will contain incidents where upon further investigation/clarification no messages may actually have been written.

The incidents that were included are those where the caller/aggrieved felt threatened, harassed, upset or offended by messages read about themselves/sent to them, as well as the more obvious examples of harassment and threats this includes (amongst many others):

  • Having their account hacked and messages sent out to their friends

  • Contact from people with restrictions/conditions not to do so

  • Messages viewed by the caller that relate to them but may not have been intended to have been seen by them

  • Posting of pictures that the caller does not want shared

The results do not include reports of 'inappropriate contact' being made with children.

Between April 2010 and March 2011 there were 1,947 initial reports made to Northumbria Police involving bullying, abuse, harassment, threats, etc via social networking sites.

Northumbria Police can neither confirm nor deny that it holds any other information relevant to your request as the duty in Section 1(1)(a) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 does not apply, by virtue of the following exemptions:

Section 23(5) Information Relating to Security Bodies

Section 24(2) National Security

Section 30(3) Investigations

Section 31(3) Law Enforcement

Overall Harm

In order to counter criminal and terrorist behaviour it is vital that the police and other agencies have the ability to work together, where necessary covertly, in order to obtain intelligence within current legislative frameworks to ensure the successful arrest and prosecution of those who commit or plan to commit acts of terrorism. In order to achieve this goal, it is vitally important that information sharing takes place with other police forces and security bodies within the UK and Internationally in order to support counter-terrorism measures in the fight to deprive international terrorist networks of their ability to commit crime.

It should be recognised that the international security landscape is increasingly complex and unpredictable. The UK faces a serious and sustained threat from violent extremists and this threat is greater in scale and ambition than any of the terrorist threats in the past. Since 2006, the UK Government have published the threat level, based upon current intelligence and that threat has remained at the second highest level, ‘severe’, except for two short periods during August 2006 and June and July 2007, when it was raised to the highest threat ‘critical’.

The prevention and detection of crime is the foundation upon which policing is built and the police have a clear responsibility to prevent crime and arrest those responsible for committing crime or those that plan to commit crime. To do this the police require evidence and that evidence can come from a number of sources, some of which is obtained through covert means. Having obtained sufficient evidence offenders are charged with offences and placed before the courts. By confirming or denying that any other information pertinent to this request exists could directly influence the stages of that process, and jeopardise current investigations or prejudice law enforcement.

Any information identifying the focus of policing activity could be used to the advantage of terrorists or criminal organisations. Information that undermines the operational integrity of these activities will adversely affect public safety and have a negative impact on both national security and law enforcement.

Factors favouring confirmation or denial for S24 -The public are entitled to know how public funds are spent and by confirming or denying when and how social networks are used by the police service could lead to a better-informed public that can take steps to protect themselves.

Factors against confirmation or denial for S24 - By confirming or denying that any other information relevant to the request exists would render Security measures less effective. This could lead to the compromise of ongoing or future operations to protect the security or infra-structure of the UK and increase the risk of harm to the public.

Factors favouring confirmation or denial for S31 - By confirming or denying when or how the police service monitor social network sites, would enable the public to see where public funds are being spent. Better public awareness may reduce crime or lead to more information from the public.

Factors against confirmation or denial for S31 - By confirming or denying that any other information relevant to the request exists, law enforcement tactics could be compromised which could hinder the prevention and detection of crime. More crime could be committed and individuals placed at risk.

Factors favouring confirmation or denial for S30 - By confirming or denying when or how the police service monitor social network sites, would enable the public to obtain satisfaction that all investigations are conducted properly and that their public money is well spent.

Factors against confirmation or denial for S30 - By confirming or denying that any other information relevant to the request exists, would hinder the prevention or detection of crime, undermine the partnership approach to law enforcement , which would subsequently affect the force’s future law enforcement capabilities.

Balance Test

The security of the country is of paramount importance and the Police service will not divulge whether information is or is not held if to do so could undermine National Security or compromise law enforcement. Whilst there is a public interest in the transparency of policing operations and in this case providing assurance that the police service is appropriately and effectively engaging with the threat posed by the criminal fraternity, there is a very strong public interest in safeguarding both national security and the integrity of police investigations and operations in this area.

As much as there is public interest in knowing that policing activity is appropriate and balanced in matters of national security this will only be overridden in exceptional circumstances. Therefore it is our opinion that for these issues the balancing test for confirming or denying whether any other information relevant to your request exists is not made out.

There is also no requirement to satisfy any public concern over the legality of police operations and the tactics we may or may not use. The force is already held to account by statute, for example the Police and Criminal Evidence Act and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act and independent bodies such as Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and the Independent Police Complaints Commission. Our accountability is therefore not enhanced by confirming or denying that any other information is held.

None of the above can be viewed as an inference that any other information does or does not exist.

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.


FOI Complaint Rights Procedure_tcm4-28029