Survivors of sexual assault in England and Wales will now risk having their case dropped if they do not hand over their electronic devices to police, giving law enforcement access to some of their most intimate personal data.
According to the Associated Press, law enforcement will now ask victims of crimes, including survivors of rape, to sign a consent form that asks for their permission to seize their electronic devices in order to access mobile data that might be relevant to the investigation.
"If you refuse permission for the police to investigate, or for the prosecution to disclose material which would allow the defendant to have a fair trial, then the investigation may not be possible for prosecution to continue," the form states, according to the AP.
The New York Times reports that the police report will find evidence of other crimes on their devices, which states that a statement to the victims that accompanies the confiscation consent form reads: "If the information is identified From your device that suggests the commission of a separate criminal offense, other than the offense (s) under investigation, the relevant data may be retained and investigated by the police. "
National Police Chiefs Council tweeted on Sunday that law enforcement officials will "only ask for private data when necessary and proportionate, and they will be advised so that the victims can make informed decisions." The Council also wrote in a press release on Monday that these new forms , which replace "forced versions", which are used in terrorism, serious fraud and organized crime case, are intended to help victims of sexual assault better understand and what they are agreeing to.
The Council added in the press release that access to data in personal devices in cases of sexual violence may be valuable to the police, since these are cases where "suspected and victim know one another".  "We understand that the use of personal data can be a source of anxiety," the Council wrote. "We would never want victims to feel that they can not report crimes because of" intrusion "in their data."
While asking for consent at face value sounds like a choice, threatening to quit the investigation in its absence makes It's a nicely worded intimidation tactic at best. What's more, the methodology of what types of investigations might require access to this private information-and all devices that hold these data-is unclear, simply citing the cop's belief that this info is necessary. Finally, there's the fact that the victims who agree to have their devices seized must weigh the possibility that the police can find evidence of non-related crimes.
"We seem to be going back to the bad old days when the victims of rape treated as suspects, "Harriet Wistrich, director of the Center for Women's Justice, told the BBC. And the Center for Women's Justice told the AP that this policy "has a clear deterrent effect on reporting the rape allegations."
Two women who were sexually assaulted who talked to the BBC also illustrated how this new protocol is not only an invasion of privacy but exacerbates an already traumatizing experience. A woman who was raped in April 2016 who handed over her phone to the police said that she did not get it back until after two years repeatedly asking for it. "They did not even take the phone off the offender," she said. "I gave his name and address. He's not having to face any consequences. "Another woman who was sexually assaulted last summer chose not to give her a phone to the police. "When I turned up at the interview and did not hand over the phone, I was made to feel that I had done something wrong. It felt so invasive, "she said. "I got halfway through the interview and then stopped. It was almost as traumatic as the incident itself. "