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More Than 400 U.K. Police Employees Disciplined For Computer Misuse, New Data Says

Documents released under Freedom of Information Act reveal wide range of incidents
More than 400 officers and staff of British police forces have been disciplined or dismissed for misuse of computers during the past five years, according to new data released under the U.K.'s Freedom of Information Act.

News reports across the U.K. offer a unique look into computer misuse inside organizations, which is widely acknowledged to be commonplace but seldom revealed to the public.

According to the reports, U.K. police forces employ some 239,000 officers, providing some scale to the 400-incident figure. "Given the large number of police staff who access computer systems every single day, nationally, the number of misuse cases are in fact very low," said a spokesman for the South Yorkshire police.

The records describe a wide range of incidents, ranging from overuse of the Web for nonwork-related browsing to unauthorized access of police records. Officers were reprimanded for misuse of email and even for cyberbullying, the reports say.

A company called 3ami, which provides user activity monitoring software to law enforcement agencies and other organizations, recently conducted a study of computer misuse in U.K. police forces. In the study, 96 percent of senior police officers said they believed abuse and/or misuse of U.K. police systems occurred "frequently."

"With more than 239,000 police officers employed in the U.K., as well as larger numbers of civilian staff, it's inevitable that human nature will rear its ugly head," said Tim Ellsmore, managing director at 3ami.

According to Ellsmore, the survey also found that inadequate staffing and lack of an effective digital audit trail were the two biggest barriers to investigating police officers or staff members suspected of illegal or inappropriate computer activity.

"Police are beginning to realise the simple truth that you can't enforce the laws of a digital workplace without being able to police and protect that workplace -- and that's where comprehensive computer activity monitoring and auditing comes in," Ellsmore said.

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