Even a small technological blunder can cost millions but, in the UK, a software bug has the potential to be a lifesaver for 150,000 people and a nightmare for law enforcement. The UK Home Office confirmed that arrest records, DNA and fingerprints of over 150,000 people had been wiped out from police databases that may lead to offenders going free.
The glitch did not only affect the police database but also impacted the UK's visa system, leading to the suspension of the application process service for two days. Sources told The Times that the records were accidentally deleted during a weekly "weeding" session to purge data. However, in this case, the deletion was not a mistake or deliberate. A software bug allowed the data to be erased. In the UK, records of offenders are kept until the person reaches 100 years of age.
While the issue has been resolved as per the Home Office, the blunder could be costly. The record allows the Police National Computer (PNC) to track offenders through DNA and fingerprints. During investigations, as the forensic department collects DNA and fingerprint evidence from crime scenes, they cross-check with the PNC database. With the records deleted of those, it will not be possible to match them.
"This is potentially catastrophic. If the data has been deleted, police won't be able to connect evidence at crime scenes to the perpetrator," a source told The Times.
The number, although, could change after complete analysis. The Home Office is trying to recover some of the data lost during the process but even then, it is expected to be a huge loss for the law enforcement after Brexit. The UK has already lost access to important EU police databases following Brexit, including alerts of about 40,000 European criminals.
However, the Home Office in a statement that the records did not belong to dangerous criminals. "The issue related to people arrested and released where no further action had been taken and no records of criminal or dangerous persons have been deleted," it said.
Labor Party's Shadow Home Secretary, Nick Thomas-Symonds, has asked Home Secretary, Priti Patel, to take responsibility for the fiasco and provide clarity. "This is an extraordinarily serious security breach that presents huge dangers for public safety. The incompetence of this shambolic Government cannot be allowed to put people at risk, let criminals go free and deny victims justice," Thomas-Symonds said in a statement.
How Is It Going to Impact Post Brexit?
The UK government has claimed that there would be no problem to deal with post-Brexit Britain despite losing access to the EU database. But surely, this incident could be the beginning of a larger issue. As the UK gets ready to admit tourists and migrants from other European nations, it will have to cross-check all of the visa applicants against the PNC database. Losing a crucial chunk of data could be problematic.
It allows law enforcement to check the status of an offender in real-time. The records also indicate if an offender is at large, has any bail condition or the type of threat the criminal may pose. Losing that important information could lead to a bigger problem. A spokesperson for the National Police Chief's Council said, "We are aware of an issue with the PNC and are working closely with the government to understand the potential operational impacts."
However, for those offenders whose data has been purged, it's a Christmas gift that came late. They now have an option to start afresh without any criminal record and stigma that comes with it.