A ban on police conducting a ‘digital strip search’ on rape victims’ phones will be introduced under a new law that aims to curb intrusive searches into victims’ sex lives.
The change in policy follows claims from rape reform campaigners that it has deterred up to half of women from pursuing rape allegations for fear of detectives scouring their intimate lives.
Current digital consent forms ask victims of crime in England and Wales – including rape complainants – to hand over their phones so officers can look for evidence.
A new law aims to curb intrusive ‘digital strip searches’ by police into rape victims’ sex lives to l only permit police searches of victims’ phones where it is strictly necessary
The new law to be introduced next month – the Police Powers and Protection Bill – will only permit police searches of victims’ phones where it is strictly necessary, according to The Telegraph.
Clauses in the Bill will also require free, full and informed consent of victims and will also only permit the minimum extraction of data required for the police investigation.
It comes following an investigative report from the UK’s Information Commissioner that criticized police for extracting ‘excessive’ amounts of personal data from victims’ phones.
Digital police search consent forms were introduced after a number of rape trials collapsed due to key digital evidence arising at the last minute.
One of those cases was Samson Makele, 28, from Eritrea who was accused of allegedly raping a woman he met at the Notting Hill Carnival in 2016.
The case was dropped just four days before he was due to go on trial when his lawyers presented photos showing him and the complainant ‘cuddling and smiling’ in bed, which undermined her account.
However, the digital police search consent forms have caused controversy as victims were told to hand over their phones or prosecutions may not go ahead.
The change in policy follows claims from rape reform campaigners that it has deterred up to half of women from pursuing rape allegations for fear of detectives scouring their intimate lives
Following the report from the Information Commissioner, the National Police Chiefs’ Council rewrote the forms.
Elizabeth Denham, the UK’s Information Commissioner recommended a statutory code to put appropriate safeguards in place.
Speaking to The Telegraph, a government source said: ‘We will put a statutory power into legislation that will clearly define what police officers can look at on phones, and that they can only extract information that is strictly necessary to detect, investigate and prosecute the offence.’
Rape prosecutions have halved in recent years – from 2,991 convictions three years ago to just 1,439 in 2019-20.
This is despite a record high in the number of reported offences, rising to 55,130 rapes, meaning just 1.4 per cent of attacks recorded by police led to a prosecution.