Cops' use of biometric images 'gone far beyond custody purposes'

Lord Scriven says response 'not worth the paper it is printed on'

The use of 20 million facial images by British police "has said gone far beyond using them for custody purposes," according to the UK Biometric Commissioners’ annual report.

Concerns have been previously raised by the commissioner over the retention of hundreds-of-thousands of innocent individuals' images. The Register was the first to report the commissioner's concerns about the legality of uploading the images onto to the Police National Database.

Biometric Commissioner Paul Wiles said the current process for deleting biometric records “is not encouraging."

He said:

"Whether the limited changes proposed will be sufficient in the face of any future legal challenge may depend on the extent to which those individuals without convictions successfully make an application for deletion of their police held custody images."

“In addition, not all forces are uploading images to [the Police National Database], including the MPS who hold their own extensive collection, so 19 million is an underestimate.”

Responding to the report, Minister of State at the Home Office Baroness Williams, said there ought to be a presumption that unconvicted individuals be deleted from the police databases unless retention is necessary for a policing purpose.

“I consider this strikes a reasonable balance between privacy and public protection,” she said.

However, concerns have previously been raised that the automatic deletion of images of unconvicted individuals would be too costly, due to the complexity of police IT systems.

Liberal Democrat Peer Lord Scriven, told The Register the notion there is a “presumption” police should delete images, is not the same as requiring them to do so. “Why are the government desperate to have a database of millions of people’s images?”

He said: “This response is not worth the two pages it is written on, it is as if the government is doing everything it can do to avoid Parliamentary scrutiny. Their response is essentially: this is going on and it is fine. We are giving a carte blanche to the police to do what they want.”

Renate Samson, director of Big Brother Watch, said the response showed calls to address the serious shortcomings in biometric image retention have fallen on deaf ears.

“It is profoundly disappointing that government believes this is the right approach. We want the government to bring custody images in line with DNA and fingerprints.”

Big Brother Watch is campaigning for the automatic deletion on proof of innocence to be implemented for custody images and facial biometrics, under its FaceOff campaign.

The publication of the 2016 report was delayed because it was not possible to arrange a slot for laying and publication before Parliament rose for the summer recess, said Williams today.

It follows the controversial use of facial recognition technology by the Metropolitan Police at the Notting Hill Carnival this year, which resulted in 35 false matches and one wrongful arrest of someone erroneously tagged as being wanted on warrant for a rioting offence. ®

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