Police National Computer
The Police National Computer (PNC) is a computer system used extensively by law enforcement organisations across the United Kingdom. It went live in 1974 and now consists of several databases available 24 hours a day, giving access to information of national and local significance.
From October 2009, the National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA) state that there are over 9.2 million nominal (personal) records, 52 million driver records, 55 million vehicle records and that 185 million transactions were made in the twelve months previous. Since 1 April 2007, it has been maintained by the NPIA which was inherited the activities of the now disbanded Police Information Technology Organisation (PITO). Prior to the establishment of PITO, the PNC was managed directly by the Home Office.
The PNC was started in 1974 with Stolen Vehicles as its initial database. Since then, additional applications have been implemented almost every year. The range of facilities, level of detail and potential value of information stored on the PNC has improved significantly. This has led to the PNC being more of an investigative tool rather than its original purpose of a record keeping one.
The PNC is based on a Fujitsu BS2000/OSD S200 mainframe with recent PNC applications held on UNIX servers. There are around 26,000 directly connected terminals and 25,000 terminals which are connected via local police force computer systems. The mainframe is connected to the end user by a multitude of ways, for high volume users (i.e. other police forces) via secure IP network, for low volume users a secure dial-up link provided by Cable & Wireless. Another connection method is via an X.25 packet-switched network, this method is being phased out. Databases for vehicles and driver licences are copied from the DVLA databases in the early morning (there is no service loss when an update is in progress). The mainframe server is located at the Hendon Data Centre with back-up servers located around the UK.
In 2005 the only back-up server was located next to Hertfordshire Oil Storage Terminal in Buncefield, which was the scene of a major civil emergency when it burned to the ground in December 2005. According to the Home Office the location had been assessed as low-risk notwithstanding that the site was 100 yards (91 m) from a disaster hazard and the site and its surroundings burned to the ground.
Requests for access to PNC are decided upon by the PNC Information Access Panel (PIAP). The members of the panel are the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), the Association of Police Authorities, the Home Office, and the NPIA.
Organisations with full access:
- All territorial police forces of Great Britain
- Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI)
- British Transport Police (BTP)
- Police Service of Scotland
- Civil Nuclear Constabulary
- Isle of Man Constabulary
- States of Jersey Police
- States of Guernsey Police Service
- National Identification Service (NIS)
- National Crime Agency (NCA)
- Ministry of Defence Police (MDP)
- HM Revenue & Customs
- The Security Service (MI5)
- Secret Intelligence Service (MI6)
- Government Communications Headquarters
- Defence Intelligence Staff
- Department for Work and Pensions
- Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency
- Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO)
Other organisations have restricted access. They include HM Court Service, Probation Service, the Criminal Records Bureau, Royal Military Police (Names file only), Royal Air Force Police(Names file only), Royal Navy Police (Names file only) & Royal Marines Police (Names file only).
PIAP has defined the following organisations as non-police and has agreed that authorised users within these organisations can have Names file only access commensurate with their previously stated and agreed business needs.
Non-police organisations with access to PNC:
- Access Northern Ireland
- Charity Commission for England and Wales
- Criminal Cases Review Commission
- Defence Vetting Agency
- Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform
- Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
- Department for Transport
- Department for Work and Pensions
- Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS)
- 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
- Her Majesty’s Prison Service
- Her Majesty’s 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
- Royal Mail
- United Kingdom Border Agency
- Vehicle and Operator Services Agency
PNC contains several separate databases; these include:
- Names File – This contains a large amount of information about people who have been convicted, cautioned or recently arrested (referred to as ‘nominals’ on the PNC). This includes links to fingerprints and DNA. (The PNC is a text only computer so no graphical information is stored; photos that are taken whilst in custody have information relating to their location so enquiries can be made to obtain a copy of them). Nominals 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. All recent previous arrests and convictions will appear on PNC as well as any impending offences; full disposal history is also included which will show the sentence handed down for each offence. Numerous other items of information are also stored including all previous addresses, co-defendants, local intelligence, marks/scars and descriptions.
- Vehicle File – Provides details on the registered keeper of a motor vehicle, as well as storing other information from the DVLA as to the vehicle’s status (Tax Expired, V23 Submitted, Stolen, Chassis Number, Engine Number etc.). Certain reports can be added by the police which relate to the vehicle or occupant status; examples include if the occupants are believed to be involved in crime or are missing, if the vehicle is stolen, if the vehicle is believed to be cloned etc. The vehicle record system is currently linked to the Motor Insurance Database (maintained by the Motor Insurers Bureau) which can confirm if an insurance policy is on the vehicle and the details of such policy such as named drivers, policy dates, policy number and insurance company. The Vehicle Operator Services Agency (VOSA) have computerised the MOT; as a result, a link has been created to the PNC which shows the expiration date of the MOT tests for vehicles. The vehicle file actually contains two separate databases (that show on a single screen), one of which is updated and controlled by the DVLA, and the second part is the responsibility of the police (including vehicle reports, which the DVLA do not have access to).
- Property File – Certain types of stolen and found property can be placed onto the PNC system. These are recorded under the following categories: Trailers (including sidecars), Plant (non-DVLA-registered agricultural and construction machinery), Engines (those that do not fall under other categories), Animal (registered animals), Marine Craft, and Firearms (including imitation firearms).
- Drivers File – This recently added database contains information on 48 million people who either hold a driving licence or are disqualified from holding one. The record will contain information relating to test passes, endorsements and the licence entitlements. This database is the responsibility of the DVLA and is updated every morning.
PNC operators undergo initial training to operate the system which usually consists of a five day course to view data and conduct simple queries. Further courses are available to expand the user’s access level to update and conduct more in-depth queries. Penalties for misuse of the PNC and unlawful access of data are severe; it will likely lead to dismissal and sometimes a court appearance for breaching the Data Protection Act 1998.
A number of criminal justice partners are linked to the PNC, giving them access to the information held on the computer. About 5,000 checks are made each week through the ‘Jurors’ link, which allows Crown Courts to check whether a proposed juror has a criminal record. Previously, the Courts Service struggled to meet its target of randomly checking 20 per cent of potential jury members.
With the growth of trans-national criminality, the PNC is to be linked to the Schengen Information System (SIS) which shares certain information Europe-wide.
The Police National Computer is one of the main sources of information accessed when a Criminal Records Bureau check is made. The Police National Computer holds indefinite records of a person’s convictions and cautions which will be revealed in a Criminal Records Bureau check. While of use in informing prospective employers as to the suitability of an applicant for a particular job, the information disclosed can show information which the applicant may think is of no relevance, such as a juvenile conviction for shoplifting where the applicant is now a thirty-year-old individual and applying for a job in a bank. Concerns have been expressed that the indefinite retention of old convictions and cautions is unwarranted.
In 2002 IMPACT delivered a tactical, complementary service to the PNC, called the Impact Nominal Index (INI).
Delivery of the PND (Police National Database) commenced in May 2010 when the first forces began to load their data on to the new system. In November 2010, Northumbria Police became the first force to connect to the PND and to begin to use the new system. As from June 2011, all Home Office forces were connected and using the PND.
PND is not a replacement for PNC, instead PND provides a different type of service based on intelligence.
- Jump up^  NPIA Business Plan 2009-10. Page 32.
- Jump up^ http://www.channel4.com/news/articles/politics/domestic_politics/buncefield+fire+destroyed+crime+data/683952
- Jump up^ http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1145581/Body-charge-UK-policing-policy-18m-year-brand-charging-public-70-60p-criminal-records-check.html by Jason Lewis Body in charge of UK policing policy is now an £18m-a-year brand charging the public £70 for a 60p criminal records check 15th February 2009, accessed 27th April 2009
- Jump up^ http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/7072241.stm Police ordered to delete records
- Jump up^ http://www.npia.police.uk/en/docs/PND_PIA_update_report.pdf
- National Policing Improvement Agency
- Civica Web PNC Information – includes example screens (PDF File)
- NDI Technologies – Over 85% of UK Law Enforcement Agencies connect to PNC with NDI