What is the Police National Computer (PNC)?
The PNC is a national database of information available to all police forces, law enforcement agencies and other specified bodies throughout UK. It 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.
The PNC stores information about people who are, or were, of interest to UK law enforcement agencies because they:
- have criminal convictions;
- are subject to the legal process, (eg, waiting to appear at court);
- are wanted by the police;
- have certain court orders made against them;
- are missing or have been found;
- have escaped from specified institutions;
- are disqualified from driving by a court;
- have a driver record held at the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA);
- hold a firearm certificate.
The PNC also holds details of UK registered vehicles. These are identical to those held by the DVLA. They include:
- vehicle details: (registration number, make, colour, modifications of vehicles and transfers of registration plates);
- registered keeper details: (name, address, and date since acquired);
- DVLA markers;
- police reports;
- vehicle insurance details.
Details held by PNC include:
- personal descriptions;
- bail conditions;
- custodial history;
- wanted or missing reports;
- warning markers;
- pending prosecutions;
- disqualified driver records;
- drink drive related offences;
- formal warnings.
How long is information stored on the PNC?
The current practice is for the police to store details of all recordable offences (ie, indictable, triable-either-way and some summary offences), and other specific offences, and for these to be held until the individual reaches 100 years old.
As well as all UK police forces and law enforcement agencies, certain other ‘non-police organisations’, have access to information held on the PNC to help them fulfil their statutory functions. Access is granted by the Police Information Access Panel, whose membership is comprised of the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Association of Police Authorities and the Home Office.
Organisations/bodies with full access to the police national computer:
- All territorial police forces of Great Britain
- Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI)
- British Transport Police (BTP)
- Civil Nuclear Constabulary
- Isle of Man Constabulary
- States of Jersey Police
- States of Guernsey Police Service
- National Identification Service (NIS)
- Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA)
- Ministry of Defence Police (MDP)
- HM Revenue & Customs
- The Security Service
- Secret Intelligence Service
- Government Communications Headquarters
- Defence Intelligence Staff
- Department for Work and Pensions
- Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency
- Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO)
These following organisations have restricted access to the PNC:
- Access Northern Ireland
- Charity Commission for England and Wales
- Criminal Cases Review Commission
- Defence Vetting Agency
- Department for Business, Innovation and Skills
- Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
- Department for Transport
- Department for Work and Pensions
- Disclosure and Barring Service
- Disclosure Scotland
- Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency
- Environment Agency
- Financial Services Authority
- Foreign and Commonwealth Office
- Gangmasters Licensing Authority
- Health and Safety Executive
- Highways Agency
- HM Court Service
- HM Prison Service
- HM Revenue and Customs
- Home Office
- Independent Police Complaints Commission
- States of Jersey Customs and Immigration Service
- Mersey Tunnels Police
- Ministry of Justice
- National Air Traffic Service
- National Health Service
- Office for Civil Nuclear Security
- Office of Fair Trading
- Probation Service
- Royal Air Force Police
- Royal Mail
- Royal Marines Police
- Royal Military Police
- Royal Navy Police
- United Kingdom Border Agency
- Vehicle and Operator Services Agency
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.
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.
Ownership and management of the PNC
The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) own the PNC system and it is managed and controlled by the Home Office.