APP on information sharing has been produced to assist forces with the statutory duty to comply with the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA) and the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA) when sharing personal information. This APP:
- relates to sharing personal data, which is defined by the DPA as data relating to a living individual who can be identified from that data – consequently, throughout this APP the term data and information are interchangeable
- only applies to sharing personal information – sharing non-personal information will be governed by national and local force policy
- aims to achieve a consistent approach across the police service to sharing personal information with external partners or agencies and provides professional guidance.
Information sharing enables early intervention and preventative work to safeguard and promote welfare and for wider public protection. The public need to be confident that their personal information is kept safe and secure. All members of the police service are responsible for ensuring that we share information appropriately as part of our day-to-day practice and do so confidently, proportionately and lawfully.
For Welsh forces: Where reference is made to national templates in this APP, Welsh forces should adhere to the Wales Accord on the Sharing of Personal Information (WASPI), which provides a framework for service-providing organisations directly concerned with the health, education, safety, and social wellbeing of people in Wales.
- 1 Information sharing
- 2 Sharing agreements
- 2.1 Data processing contract
- 2.2 Memorandum of understanding
- 2.3 Service-level agreement
- 2.4 Information sharing agreement
- 3 Common law
- 4 Statutory obligation
- 5 Statutory power
- 6 Requirement for an information sharing agreement
- 6.1 Factors to consider
- 6.2 National information sharing agreements
- 6.3 Local information sharing agreements
- 6.4 Consent
- 7 Data Sharing Code of Practice
- 8 Drafting an information sharing agreement
- 9 Governance process for national agreements
- 10 Governance process diagram
Information sharing can mean disclosing information from one or more organisations to a third-party organisation(s) or sharing information between different parts of an organisation. It may include processing information either on a one-off or an ongoing basis between partners for the purpose of achieving a common aim.
Data sharing can take the form of:
- a mutual exchange of data
- one or more organisations providing data to a third party/parties
- several organisations making information available to each other on a shared platform
- several organisations combining information and making it available to a third party or parties.
Sharing police information must be linked to a policing purpose. APP on information management – management of police information defines these as:
- protecting life and property
- preserving order
- preventing and detecting offences
- bringing offenders to justice
- any duty or responsibility arising from common or statute law.
Some data sharing does not involve personal data, eg, sharing statistical data that does not identify a person. When this occurs, neither the DPA nor this APP applies.
Organisations share information in different ways. The following are definitions of the differing types of agreement that enable effective information sharing.
Data processing contract
A data processing contract describes the specific authorisation and instructions for one organisation to process personal data on behalf of another organisation. For further information see APP data protection/data processing contract.
Memorandum of understanding
A memorandum of understanding (MoU) describes a bilateral or multilateral agreement between two or more parties. An MoU expresses the parties’ common objectives, indicating an intended common line of action leading to establishing a working relationship. It is a formal record of high-level commitment and agreement between organisations.
- describes the general principles of the agreements and the working relationships
- does not amount to a substantive contract
- is often used in cases where parties do not, for whatever reason, wish to create a legally binding commitment.
Where there is a requirement to share personal information as a result of an MoU, there should be a separate information sharing agreement (ISA) which supports that MoU.
A service-level agreement (SLA) is an agreement between a service provider and its internal/external customers. It records the level to which the provider will perform the services. An SLA should be distinguished from (and should form a part of) the contract for the performance of the services themselves (services contract). The services contract will set out a full description of the services and include a number of terms and conditions such as price, payment, warranties and termination provisions.
SLAs measure the service provider’s performance and quality. They can be structured in a number of ways, ie, with or without key performance indicators and/or service credits. The simpler they are (focusing on key issues only), the easier they will be to manage and are thus more likely to be effective.
For any SLA to be effective (particularly if it is to be used with a third-party provider) it should:
- form part of a services contract
- be periodically reported against by the service provider
- be actively managed (along with the contract itself)
- be periodically reviewed and updated to reflect relevant changes.
This type of agreement is often used, especially in policing, to document how one unit/department provides a support service for a BCU/force.
Information sharing agreement
An ISA, also known as a data sharing agreement/information sharing protocol, identifies the statutory or common law basis for sharing personal information, and the extent and nature of the personal information to be shared. An ISA identifies:
- common standards for processing and handling information, including quality, retention and security considerations
- the lawful basis for using personal data, to achieve more effective policies and deliver better services while ensuring privacy and confidentiality of personal information.
This type of agreement is appropriate whenever the police either request or are requested to share information on a regular basis with others, whether for a statutory or policing purpose.
Common law does not provide the police with an unconditional power to engage in any activity that is not otherwise provided for by statute. It cannot be used in a way that contravenes or conflicts with any legislation. Any use of common law powers to share information must be compliant with, in particular, the HRA and the DPA.
Pressing social need
There must also be a pressing social need to share information. The justification for disclosing personal information to a third party under common law is considered to be equivalent to that required for disclosing non-conviction information in accordance with the provisions of Part V of the Police Act 1997. See R (on application of L) (FC) (Appellant) v Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis (2009) UKSC 3.
Common law police disclosures
The common law police disclosure (CLPD) provisions allow forces to proactively provide personal data or sensitive personal data to a third party using common law powers. Chief officers should locally determine the implementation of CLPD provisions. The CLPD came into effect following the withdrawal of the notifiable occupation scheme (HOC 6/2006) by the home secretary on 10 March 2015.
Subject to certain exemptions, statutory obligation means forces must share information. This is where there is a specific legal obligation to disclose police information to another party. Examples of where the police service is obliged to disclose information include:
- disclosure under Part V of the Police Act 1997
- disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act 2000
- disclosure under the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006
- disclosure under the Data Protection Act 1998
- responding to court orders (APP information management – data protection).
Sharing information under statutory obligation does not require an ISA. Where in doubt, refer to the force point of contact for information sharing.
Subject to certain exemptions, statutory power means forces may share information. Under statutory power there is a specific legal power, but not an obligation, to share police information with another party. When sharing information under a statutory power:
- forces may do so without using an ISA, MoU or SLA
- forces must maintain an audit trail of the information shared.
Sharing information under a statutory power does not require an ISA. Where in doubt, refer to the force point of contact for information sharing.
Legislative powers – Data Protection Act 1998
Police officers and police staff are sometimes required to make decisions in circumstances where those involved deliberately mislead or try to mislead them. The national decision model (NDM) helps police officers and staff make, examine and challenge decisions (both at the time and afterwards). The NDM can be used as a basis for assessing the need to share information. It should also be used to assess the limited sharing opportunities identified in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 imposes a duty on chief officers to share information with Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnerships (CDRPs) where appropriate.
Sharing police information can take place in a pre-planned and routine way as part of business as usual. This is governed by established rules and procedures. Forces may decide, or be asked, to share information in situations which are not covered by a formal agreement. This may result in sharing decisions being made under urgent conditions. Disclosing information in situations not covered by a formal agreement is still subject to the relevant sections of the DPA:
- Section 29 – Crime and taxation – Personal data processed for any of the following purposes:
- preventing or detecting crime
- apprehending or prosecuting offenders
- assessing or collecting any tax or duty or any imposition of a similar nature
- Section 35 – Disclosures required by law or made in connection with legal proceedings:
- personal data are exempt from the non-disclosure provisions where the disclosure is required by or under any enactment, by any rule of law or by a court order
- personal data are exempt from the non-disclosure provisions where the disclosure is necessary
- for the purpose of, or in connection with, any legal proceedings (including prospective legal proceedings)
- for the purpose of obtaining legal advice, or is otherwise necessary for the purposes of establishing, exercising or defending legal rights.
Where an agreement does not exist, or the decision to share is a one-off, there are important questions that can help ensure that any information sharing is lawful:
- Who is asking for the information?
- Have the name, position, organisation and contact details of the person asking for the information been recorded?
- Has the identity of the person requesting the information been verified?
- What information is being requested?
- For what purpose will it be used?
- Is personal information being requested?
- Does a statutory or common law provision exist, and has a policing purpose to share information been established?
- If yes, in what format does the requester want the information?
- When does the requester want the information?
Once information has been shared, the decision to share, why it was made and what information was shared should be recorded.
Requirement for an information sharing agreement
Factors to consider
- What is the purpose of sharing the data? When deciding whether to enter into an arrangement to share personal data (either as a provider, a recipient or both), set and document a clear purpose. This will help ensure that sharing is proportionate and relevant.
- What are the benefits and risks? Identify the potential benefits and risks (either to individuals or society) of sharing the data and assess the likely risks of not sharing.
- What information needs to be shared? Do not share all personal data held about someone if only certain data items are needed to achieve objectives (eg, there may be a need to share a person’s current name and address but not other information held about them).
- Who requires access to the shared personal data? Apply the ‘need to know’ principles. Organisations and relevant staff should only have access to data if needed. This addresses necessary restrictions on onward sharing of data with third parties.
- When should it be shared? Document whether sharing is an ongoing, routine process or whether it should take place only in response to particular events.
- How should it be shared? Address security for accessing transmission/data and establish common rules for security.
- How can we check the sharing is achieving its objectives? Assess whether it is still appropriate to share and confirm that the safeguards still match the risks.
- What risk does the data sharing pose? Is any individual likely to be damaged by it? Is any individual likely to object? Might it undermine individuals’ trust in the organisations that keep records about them?
- Could the objective be achieved without sharing the data or by anonymising it? Do not use personal data to plan service provision, eg, where this could be done with information that does not amount to personal data.
- What type of agreement is required? Is the requirement for an ISA only relevant to the local force or is there a need for a national agreement?
In addition to the above considerations, officers and staff should seek advice from the force lead for information sharing before creating an ISA. Forces should consider the requirements for a privacy impact assessment.
National information sharing agreements
National ISAs enable information to be shared from a national police system (eg, PNC) to an external organisation. For example, forces are under obligation to share information from PNC to the Gangmasters Licensing Authority). National ISAs are commissioned by an NPCC lead and the agreements relate to their national policing coordination committee or portfolio area.
Local information sharing agreements
Local ISAs are those that are commissioned by a force lead or force information asset owner and relate to local policing, including safeguarding and public protection.
There is no requirement for the police service to have local ISAs in place between forces. Chief officers may arrange information sharing with other forces either by a formal request process or by providing direct access to force systems.
Consent (explicit consent for sensitive personal data) is one of the conditions the DPA provides to legitimise processing. A data subject’s consent is defined as the agreement by the data subject (either specific or informed indication of wishes) to their personal data being processed. This agreement should be in the form of active communication where the individual knowingly indicates consent.
Where consent is to be used as a condition, data subjects consenting should know what data sharing they are consenting to and understand its implications. They must also have control over whether or not the data sharing takes place.
Where in doubt, refer to the force point of contact for information sharing.
Data Sharing Code of Practice
The information commissioner has published the ICO (2011) Data Sharing Code of Practice under section 52 of the DPA. It is a statutory code.
The code covers the two main types of data sharing (under routine data sharing) where the same information is shared regularly between organisations for an established purpose:
- Example 1: Sharing personal information with the Security Industry Authority
- Example 2: Sharing personal information with the General Medical Council
- exceptional, one-off decisions to share data for any range of purposes
- Example 3: Child Sex Offender Police Disclosure Scheme (Sarah’s Law)
- Example 4: The Domestic Abuse Disclosure Scheme (Claire’s Law).
Where in doubt, refer to the force point of contact for information sharing.
Drafting an information sharing agreement
Forces should draft an ISA using the relevant ISA template. For a local agreement, local force processes apply.
The national ISA template has been produced by the national information sharing portfolio to encourage consistency and make the process of producing or updating a national ISA informal and flexible.
Review and feedback
During the review and feedback stage, a force submits the ISA for local and national consultation.
Once the ISA has been approved, the forces should publish it as required. For national agreements this includes adding it to the national register and publishing it on POLKA.
Reviews are an essential part of any ISA. The aim is to ensure that the agreement is achieving its purpose and that the actual sharing process is operating smoothly. The force point of contact for information sharing should carry out reviews annually in conjunction with partner agencies.
A review should include the following questions:
- Does the agreement still have the correct contact list?
- Is the agreement still useful and fit for purpose?
- Has the review identified any emerging issues?
- Should the ISA be extended or terminated?
Governance process for national agreements
National information sharing portfolio
The national policing lead for information sharing chairs the national information sharing portfolio and reports directly to the information management coordination committee (IMCC).
The national information sharing portfolio aims to promote, support and enable lawful information sharing in support of a policing purpose. It reports directly to the IMCC.
The national information sharing portfolio:
- facilitates and promotes best practice on information sharing
- influences policy and legislative developments regarding sharing police information
- oversees the governance framework for managing national ISAs
- supports national policing leads in developing ISAs
- provides guidance relating to the content and format of the standard national policing ISA template
- builds and maintains internal and external stakeholder relationships
- maintains the national policing ISA register
- facilitates the communications network.
Governance process diagram
Page last accessed 30 March 2017