Sunday, December 03, 2006

When fired for using police documents to check out girlfriends, call centre worker says everyone does it

From New Zealand, an interesting story ...

Police files used to check out girlfriends - New Zealand, world, sport, business & entertainment news on

Police files used to check out girlfriends

04 December 2006


A 111 call-centre worker, sacked after being accused of stealing information from the police computer, says he will fight the dismissal because the practice is rife.

Les Neilson – who admits he used the police computer to check on potential girlfriends – says many police regularly look up acquaintances and friends on the database.

He claims he has been made a scapegoat.

"I've basically been screwed for doing something that's a common practice. I've used the information the same as everyone else has," he said.

"If I'm socialising with people and I'm meeting new partners then I need to know the background of those partners because I don't want to put myself or the department in a compromising position.

"There's nothing that says 'I can't do that' – I've been doing it for the last 20 years."

Mr Neilson, who has been involved with the police for 20 years, was accused of "inappropriate accessing and disclosure of police information" in April and summarily dismissed.

However, he is fighting the sacking by taking an unfair dismissal case to the Employment Relations Authority. Mr Neilson is now working as a private investigator in Wellington.

A law expert says police could be sued over the revelations for breach of privacy and says police must investigate how many staff do this and what the confidential information is used for.

The police database contains a range of personal information, including current addresses, vehicle details, next of kin, details of who individuals live and associate with, criminal histories and any links with gangs.

The information is highly valued by private investigators and debt collectors. Sources say a current name and address alone can sell for between $100 and $200.

Police Commissioner Howard Broad said staff knew it was wrong to access the database for personal use. "If they do, it's wrong and they would know that it's wrong. It's quite a clear breach."

Mr Neilson, a former policeman who was later employed as a non-sworn staff member in the Wellington communications centre, said he regularly looked up associates and girlfriends "to protect myself and the organisation".

He denies police allegations that he gave computer information to other people, that he misrepresented himself, and that he was using the database for personal gain.

"I have not disclosed the information to anyone. I've given an explanation. If they investigate it they'll find out it's a very legitimate explanation."

Mr Neilson thought the public would not care that police accessed the database as he did.

"How many of the general public would be upset that the local policeman or someone working for the police checks up on them, or who's in the street, or checks up on potential tenants for flats or aunts' and uncles' criminal histories?"

A police headquarters spokeswoman said the office was constrained about what could be said because the case was before the Employment Relations Authority.

"The police organisation is intolerant of any abuses of information that is held. As this case illustrates, action will be taken against any staff member who seeks to use police information for purposes unrelated to their duties," the spokeswoman said.

Police Association president Greg O'Connor said the union had reminded members to be aware of how they used police information and facilities.

Operation Insider, which investigated the distribution of pornographic e-mails among police, had highlighted the importance of using such facilities appropriately, he said.

Auckland University associate law professor Scott Optican said the revelation was a significant breach of privacy and police could face lawsuits as well as formal complaints.

"Certainly, there's no question that something like this is going to have to cause the police to rethink how they safeguard the information against the people who have access to it."

Professor Optican said police had a duty to investigate how many people had accessed the database for personal use, and what they did with that information. "If it looks like there were consequences (for the person who was looked up), they need to contact that person and find out what happened.

"Quite frankly, I think the police should explain to members of the public exactly what happened here and what they'll do to make sure it doesn't happen again."

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