The Police National Computer (PNC)

What is the PNC

The PNC stands for Police National Computer. It is the primary national police computer system in the United Kingdom and is used for facilitating investigations and sharing information of both national and local significance. The system provides intelligence to police and other criminal justice or law enforcement agencies by holding extensive information on people, vehicles, crimes and property. It is accessible over a secure network, within seconds and from thousands of terminals across the country at any time. This now includes mobile data checking at the scene of a crime or investigation.

Background of the PNC

The PNC dates back to 1974 when it was simply a database for stolen vehicles. Since its creation numerous applications have been implemented and technology has been embraced. The PNC has grown from a basic record-keeping service into a highly sophisticated online intelligence and investigatory tool consisting of various databases assisting in investigations and other areas of the criminal justice system and law enforcement.

Databases

The PNC contains several separate databases with direct links to many others. The main PNC databases are as follows:

  • Names File – This contains information about people who have been convicted, cautioned or recently arrested. These people are referred to as nominals and can be placed on the PNC as wanted/missing if they are sought in connection with a crime, on warrant and failed to appear at court, AWOL from military service or reported missing. The PNC will retain information on all recent previous arrests, convictions and what sentence was handed down, as well as any impending offences. The PNC will also store information such as all previous addresses, co-defendants, local intelligence, marks/scars and descriptions and will include links to fingerprints and DNA. As the PNC is a text only system, without graphical information, it doesn’t hold photographs but will provide information relating to the location of photos taken whilst someone is in custody.

  • Vehicle File – This contains details of the registered keeper of a motor vehicle, as well as other information from the DVLA as to the vehicle status such as whether the tax has expired. The police can also add reports as to whether a vehicle is stolen, missing or believed to be involved in a crime, and so on. The vehicle record system is linked to the Motor Insurance Database maintained by the Motor Insurers Bureau which can also confirm if the vehicle is insured together with details of any policy dates and number, the insurance company and any named drivers. There is also a link to computerized MOTs through The Vehicle Operator Services Agency (VOSA) which shows the expiration date of the MOT tests for vehicles.

  • Drivers File – This contains information on several million people who hold a driving licence or are disqualified from holding one, including information relating to test passes, endorsements and licence entitlements. The DVLA is responsible for this database.

  • Property File – Different types of stolen and found property can be placed onto the PNC system including firearms, trailers, plant and equipment, engines, animals and marine craft.

Types of applications used on the PNC

QUEST (Querying Using Enhanced or Extended Search Techniques) – this allows users to search the names database to identify suspects using information gathered as to physical description and personal features. A search can be done of people using only partial descriptions or limited pieces of information.

  • VODS (Vehicle Online Descriptive Search) – this allows users to search the vehicles database to narrow the list to potential suspect vehicles using search criteria such as registration, colour and postcode, so again using only partial descriptions or limited pieces of information.
  • ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Recognition) – cameras are used to take a visual image of a number plate and using databases such as the PNC police officers can be alerted to vehicles of interest to them.
  • CRIMELINK – crime and intelligence analysts will have access to this national database through the PNC to identify patterns and links in crimes across the UK and use that information to aid in the detection of criminals, particularly in serious serial-type crimes.

Users

There are several organisations with full access to the PNC including all territorial police forces of Great Britain, the Police Service of Northern Ireland, British Transport Police, Civil Nuclear Constabulary, Isle of Man Constabulary, States of Jersey Police, States of Guernsey Police Service, Serious Organised Crime Agency, Ministry of Defence Police, HM Revenue & Customs, The Security Service MI5, Secret Intelligence Service MI6, Government Communication Headquarters, Defence Intelligence Staff, Department for Work and Pensions, Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency and the Association of Chief Police Officers.

There are a number of other organisations with restricted access. These include HM Court Service where Crown Courts use the PNC juror link to carry out criminal record checks on potential jury members. The Criminal Records Bureau use the PNC to carry out criminal record checks on individuals applying to work with children or other vulnerable people although concerns have been expressed that the indefinite retention of old convictions and cautions is unwarranted. Other organisations with restricted access include the Probation Service, the Royal Military Police, Royal Air Force Police, Royal Navy Police and Royal Marines Police.

Accessing your personal data held on the PNC

Subject to certain exemptions, individuals have a right to be told whether the police hold any information about them. Further, there is a right to be provided with a copy of that personal data within a 40 day period. An application can be made to the police at a cost of £10, providing proof of identity. However, under the Data Protection Act 1998, the police may not provide personal data if is it considered that to do so would be likely to prejudice policing purposes. Further, the police will not release any information that would disclose the identity of another individual.

Misuse of the PNC

Penalties for misuse of the PNC and unlawful access of data are severe. Misuse will likely lead to dismissal and even prosecution for breaching the Data Protection Act 1998.

Future of the PNC

The Information Management Prioritisation Analysis Co-ordination and Tasking programme (IMPACT) is currently underway within the NPIA to develop a replacement system, the Police National Database (PND). This will help police to share, access and search local information electronically across forces and in this way overcoming artificial geographical and jurisdictional boundaries and increasing operational effectiveness. IMPACT has already delivered a complementary service to the PNC, called the IMPACT Nominal Index (INI), which is seen as a step further towards the PND. The PND will eventually provide national access, for all police forces, to all the information held on individuals involved in crimes.

Additional information relating to the PNC

The PNC is maintained by the National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA).