Police Scotland stop labelling HIV as ‘contagious’

June 12, 2020

HIV Scotland has been successful in forcing Police Scotland to halt their practice of recording HIV status on the Scottish Intelligence Database (SID) within a ‘contagious’ indicator, believing it to be a fundamental breach of human rights, data protection legislation and contrary to modern medical science.

The charity, which makes sure people living with and those affected by HIV have their say on the issues that matter, were alerted to this from a whistle-blower, who informed them of the way intelligence is gathered, coded and registered against people living with HIV.

HIV Scotland’s Chief Executive, Nathan Sparling, wrote to Police Scotland’s Chief Constable, Iain Livingstone in March to ask if Police Scotland hold information regarding an individual’s HIV status on the SID. Furthermore, the letter asked if this information was stored under an ‘infectious’ marker.

In a response dated March 20, 2020, Assistant Chief Constable Alan Speirs wrote to confirm that an indicator for ‘contagious’ was applied to nominals who are classed as contagious through ‘any intelligence received’, which includes HIV status. The letter confirmed that this indicator was currently being added to nominals who have HIV. The Assistant Chief Constable went on to say, ‘having identified this practice, and in line with current policy on the Criminal History System (CHS) and the Police National Computer (PNC) where HIV is not recorded, I have instructed that this is immediately reviewed.’

In a new letter received by HIV Scotland on June 10, 2020, Police Scotland confirmed that a review had taken place, which has resulted in Police Scotland amending its practice and policy and now ‘no longer records HIV status on SID within the contagious indicator field.’

Whilst HIV Scotland welcome this news, they believe many questions remain:

  • Will Police Scotland proactively remove information about someone’s HIV status from the intelligence database?
  • Will Police Scotland review activity that has led to people living with HIV being targeted or discriminated against because of their HIV status?
  • What training has been provided to officers from constable to higher ranks to ensure that any knowledge intelligence – information that is known to officers but not stored in SID – is not used to discriminate against people?
  • Can Police Scotland clarify why the information was retained in the first place, and if not, will they refer themselves to the Information Commissioner’s Office?

Nathan Sparling, Chief Executive of HIV Scotland, said: ‘We happened upon this practice by chance. We have uncovered a systematic issue that could have impacted the lives of people living with HIV. It begs the question – what other information is stored about us on the Scottish Intelligence Database and what relevance does it have to the Police?

‘People could have had intelligence stored on SID regardless of their HIV status, but simply because they were perceived to have HIV. We hope that Police Scotland will not stop at simply reviewing and changing current practice but look at what the impact could have been on individuals and ensure Officers have access to up-to-date information about the modern-day realities of HIV.

‘Because that reality is that many people living with HIV who are on treatment cannot pass it on to their sexual partners, and the risk of transmission through other routes is significantly reduced. This is due to treatment being so effective that it reduces levels of the virus to a level that is undetectable in the blood.

‘People living with HIV should no longer be the victim of decades-old stigma. Systemic issues must be rooted out, and we are glad that in this case we have uncovered an issue, and that it has been acted on. These questions need answers, and we will continue to campaign to ensure systems change for the better.’

HIV Scotland is asking anyone who may feel like they have been inappropriately targeted or discriminated against by the police because of their HIV status to email or 01315583713.

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