Last Friday, we reported on two Freedom of Information Act requests directed at two regional police forces in the UK.
In almost identical requests, which appear to have been filed by the same person, Wiltshire Police and West Yorkshire Police were asked eight questions relating to enforcement measures taken against suppliers, distributors, and consumers of illegal streaming services.
Both police forces said that no information was readily accessible, adding that it would take so long to retrieve information manually that the estimated costs rendered both requests ineligible for disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act. That was disappointing.
A key component of an ongoing anti-piracy campaign in the UK includes sensitizing the public to the risk of being convicted for fraud offenses carrying prison sentences of up to 10 years. Not for getting involved in the supply or sale of pirate streams, but for simply watching them.
Certainly, legal theory doesn’t rule out the possibility, but in a campaign that relies almost entirely on fear, hard independent facts would’ve been a welcome addition.
Information Accessible, Reasonably Priced
During the weekend, we learned that the eight questions covering the five-year period 2019-2023, rejected by Wiltshire Police and West Yorkshire Police for being too costly to answer, were also sent to Greater Manchester Police (GMP). With just one exception (question 7 relating to the supply of illegal streams, see earlier article) GMP answered every question.
GMP reports that two people received a police caution for distributing or supplying illegal streaming services in 2021. During the same year, a total of two people were arrested for distributing or supplying illegal streaming services.
There’s insufficient information in the response to determine whether the two people arrested in 2021 were the same people who received cautions in 2021. In 2022, one person was arrested for distributing or supplying illegal streaming services.
Distribution, Supply, & Viewing
Since GMP declined to answer question seven (which relates exclusively to the supply of illegal streams) but were happy respond to question six (which mentions both distribution and supply) it seems likely that all figures released here relate to distribution.
Overall then, a maximum of three arrests and two cautions in a five-year period doesn’t sound like a lot, even accounting for the possibility of additional arrests/cautions/fines relating to action under question 7.
Based on how many members of the public could be affected by the purported fraud prosecutions publicized in the media, we now turn to the most important disclosures by GMP with government figures for context.
The most recent data published by the Intellectual Property Office estimates that in 2022 alone, 3.9 million people in the UK watched live sports via illegal streams.
How many of the 3.9 million live in GMP’s area is unknown but, with almost 500 square miles of mostly urban conurbation and a population of 2.8 million, it accounts for 5% of the overall UK population.
In its response to the FOIA request, Greater Manchester Police reveal that the number of people cautioned, fined and/or arrested for simply watching illegal streams in 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022, and 2023 combined, was…..zero.
Inconvenient Facts Are Still Facts
GMP’s disclosure doesn’t come as a surprise but seeing the zero figure in black and white confirms our suspicions. Had there been a single arrest anywhere in the UK, purely for watching illegal streams, no effort would’ve been spared to ensure everyone heard about it.
Whether similar disclosures will appear in the days and weeks ahead is unknown but thanks to GMP’s ability to accurately retrieve information, at least some facts have entered the public domain. If West Midlands Police or Leicestershire Police receive similar requests, their record retrieval skills shouldn’t disappoint.
For a six-week period early 2023, West Midlands Police were able to report that four crimes were linked to Prime Energy drink, (pdf) including assault, harassment, criminal damage, and theft from a machine. None of the offenses related to the extortionate price of the drink, however.
In response to a FOIA request to disclose caller logs that featured terms including ‘UFO’, ‘Alien’, ‘UAP’ and ‘spaceship’, Leicestershire Police went to considerable lengths to protect caller privacy (pdf).
After being provided with an example of appropriate redaction (“Male caller named (REDACTED) reports seeing four flashing lights hovering above his property in (REDACTED) street before a female was beamed into the sky”) the force published a spreadsheet. It lists 65 calls but no information that could identify any particular caller.
West Yorkshire Police received the same request (pdf) and was able to confirm that the words ‘UFO’, ‘UAP’, ‘ALIEN’ or ‘SPACESHIP’ appeared in log text 1805 times.
GMP’s response to the FOIA request related to streaming is available here (pdf)
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