Cressida Dick calls for fast legal access to social media accounts

Met chief highlights data protection ‘difficulties’ after murder suspect’s block on Facebook password

The head of Scotland Yard has called for police to be able to quickly access material from social media companies after the suspect in the murder of 13-year-old Lucy McHugh was jailed for withholding his Facebook password.

The Metropolitan police commissioner, Cressida Dick, was speaking after Stephen Nicholson pleaded guilty last week to a charge under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act and was sentenced to 14 months’ imprisonment.

Asked if Hampshire police should have been denied the data they had requested, Dick said it was not the first time a police service had approached a social media firm looking for evidence “and had to go through either a very protracted procedure, or has found that it’s impossible to do so”.

She said, during an interview on LBC Radio: “I absolutely think that in certain instances – and it sounds like this is one – law enforcement in the UK ought to have vital evidence which might bring someone to justice. There are complex and practical things for them, and legal things, which I do respect. It’s not as straightforward as it sounds, but I think that’s where we should be.”

Nicholson twice refused to give detectives his Facebook password while being questioned on suspicion of murder and sexual activity with a child. Police were facing difficulties in trying to obtain the messages from Facebook, Southampton crown court was told by prosecutors.

The social media company said it was working closely with law enforcement and following well-established legal mechanisms.

Nicholson was first arrested by Hampshire police on suspicion of murder and sexual activity with a child and remains on bail for those allegations. A charging decision is expected on 27 October.

In the same interview on Tuesday, Dick also defended stop-and-search powers amid government plans to expand their use. The home secretary, Sajid Javid, has said he wants the police to be able to stop anyone suspected of carrying acid without a good reason and for the power to be used in the cases of people carrying laser pointers or drones.

Dick said her officers were as equally likely to find weapons, drugs or stolen goods being carried by black or white suspects. She insisted the powers were used try to “protect the most vulnerable people and that is young black boys”.

She added:“If you are a young black man you are about four times more likely to be stopped than a white person, and that does upset people. But what I would say is actually the result, the success rate, is exactly the same, which shows to me that we are in fact using the power intelligently, we are targeting the right people.”

However, the Labour MP Chuka Umunna said on Tuesday it was absurd for any police chief to claim there was not a racial dimension to stop and search. “We cannot duck, but must confront, these facts. To acknowledge the racial dimension is not to argue for stop and search to be done away with,” he said on Twitter.

While adding that power had “its place”, he said it was used too often in a way that demeaned and humiliated young black people in particular.

Official figures released in 2017 showed that the racial gap in the use of stop and search by police was growing, leaving black people eight times more likely to be stopped than white people.


Ben Quinn

The GuardianTramp

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