Hundreds of police officers and staff have been disciplined for abusing their access to confidential databases, figures showed today.
A total of 904 officers and staff were subject to internal disciplinary procedures for breaching data protection laws between 2007 and 2010, 243 received criminal convictions and 98 were sacked.
The national figures come after it emerged last month that more than 100 officers in the Merseyside force broke data protection laws to view files on footballer Steven Gerrard after his arrest for affray in 2008. Gerrard was later cleared.
In that force alone, 208 officers and staff have received criminal convictions for breaching the Data Protection Act since 2007.
The latest figures were released to campaign group Big Brother Watch following a request under Freedom of Information (FoI) laws to the 43 forces in England and Wales.
Daniel Hamilton, director of Big Brother Watch, said: "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 worst, downright dangerous.
"Police forces must adopt a zero tolerance approach to this kind of behaviour. Those found guilty of abusing their position should be sacked on the spot."
In all, 36 forces responded to the FoI request, with four - Dyfed Powys, Leicestershire, South Wales and West Yorkshire - refusing to provide information and three - Lincolnshire, North Yorkshire, and Wiltshire - sending no response.