By Claire West

The House of Lords EU Committee has published its report on the operation and use of the ELMER database, the Serious Organised Crime Agency’s (SOCA) principal tool in identifying suspicious activity that may involve funds which are the proceeds of criminal activity.

The report, Money laundering: data protection for suspicious activity reports, follows the Committee’s 2009 report, Money laundering and the financing of terrorism, in which the Committee expressed concern about the number of organisations with access to ELMER on the grounds of data protection. In 2009, the Committee recommended that the Information Commissioner should review and report on the operation and use of the ELMER database, considering in particular data protection issues. The Commissioner completed his review in 2010 and reported to the Committee.

The Committee welcome the Commissioner’s review, particularly the recommendation that SOCA should develop and manage a record retention and deletion policy to bring it into line with data protection principles.

The Committee remain concerned that access, either directly or indirectly, to the ELMER database, which holds detailed personal records involving over 1.5 million suspicious activities, is too wide.

The Commissioner’s review also notes that there are doubts about the justification of reporting transactions where there is a very low level of suspicion that handling criminal property or money laundering is taking place. The Committee’s view is that the reporting of suspicious activity in ELMER is disproportionate, and that if too much information is collated on low levels of suspicion the process is devalued.

Commenting on the report, Lord Hannay of Chiswick, Chairman of the EU Sub-Committee on Home Affairs, said:

“The Committee is grateful to the Information Commissioner’s Office for this thorough review of the ELMER database. It is important that the Government considers whether the current arrangements are still effective and can still be justified. We are glad that the Commissioner agrees with our view that the database does not comply fully with the Data Protection Act and the Human Rights Act.

“We look forward to the response of SOCA and the Government to the Commissioner’s recommendations.”