Police breaches of the Data Protection Act is an endemic problem across the country, with 904 officers and staff having been subject to internal disciplinary procedures, according to research from civil liberties watchdog Big Brother Watch.
However, between 2007 and 2010 just 98 police officers had their employment terminated for breaching the Data Protection Act (DPA), according to Big Brother Watch. In Merseyside alone, 208 officers and police staff received criminal convictions for breaching the DPA since 2007.
Daniel Hamilton, director of Big Brother Watch said: "The allegations surrounding Andy Coulson are just the tip of the iceberg. We've managed to find more than 900 officers who have breached the act, but I wouldn't be surprised if the real amount was a multiple of this figure.
"Our investigation shows that not only have police employees been found to have run background records checks on friends and possible partners, but some have been convicted for passing sensitive information to criminal gangs and drug dealers. This is at best hugely intrusive and, at worse, downright dangerous," Daniel Hamilton said.
Hamilton says police responses to staff breaches of the DPA vary across the country. No officers have been sacked or disciplined in London, while 62 had been formally dealt with in Humberside. "Some forces do take this seriously, while others appear to take a lackadaisical approach," said Hamilton.
A spokesman from the Independent Police Complaints Commission said the usual police procedure for DPA breaches was for individual forces to deal with matters internally.
A spokesman from the Association of Chief Police Officers said: "All officers are subject to the standards of professional behaviour set out in the Police Conduct Regulations. These regulations are very clear and state that police officers must be honest, act with integrity and do not compromise or abuse their position. Officers hold a position of trust, with privileged access to data and systems, and they have a positive duty to demonstrate that trust to the communities we serve.
"When an officer's conduct, on duty or off duty, falls below the standards, there will be an investigation into what has occurred and if the allegation is proven then appropriate action will be taken."
To see a full breakdown of the extent of police officers' abuse of confidential databases, click here >>