Police use of photos alarming – MPs


Published: Saturday 7th March 2015 by The News Editor

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Legal loopholes are allowing police to store photographs of innocent people to use with facial recognition systems, MPs have warned.

Officers are uploading images taken of suspects in custody to the police national database even if they are released without charge or later found not guilty, according to the Science and Technology Committee.

It warned of a “w orrying lack” of oversight and regulation and found that despite a High Court ruling in 2012 that retention of the photographs was “unlawful”, there are gaps in legislation.

MPs called for day-to-day, independent oversight of police use of all biometrics, which include technologies that use iris patterns, retinas, face or hand geometry to identify people.

Ministers should extend the b iometrics commissioner’s powers beyond DNA and fingerprints to cover police use and retention of facial images, the committee recommended.

MPs said it was “imperative” that biometric systems used by the state were accurate and insisted they must undergo rigorous testing – something that did not happen before the searchable national database of custody photographs went live.

Committee chairman Andrew Miller said: ” As we struggle to remember ever more passwords and pin numbers in everyday life, the potential benefits of using biometric technologies to verify identity are obvious.

“However, biometrics also introduce risks and raise important ethical and legal questions relating to privacy and autonomy.

“We are not against the police using biometric technologies like facial recognition software to combat crime and terrorism.

“But we were alarmed to discover that the police have begun uploading custody photographs of people to the police national database and using facial recognition software without any regulatory oversight – some of the people had not even been charged.”

The committee accused the government of a “co ntinuing lack of transparency” over the scientific advice it had been given on biometrics and criticised its “inexcusable” failure to publish a strategy dealing with the emerging technology, including concerns over the potential for its misuse as well as security issues.

It warned of a “worrying lack of clarity” about how the government intended to use biometrics for identification purposes and what consideration it had given the ethics and legal implications.

Mr Miller added: ” Management of both the risks and benefits of biometrics should have been at the core of the Government’s joint forensics and biometrics strategy.

“In 2013, my committee was told by the Government to expect the publication of a strategy by the end of the year.

“We were therefore dismayed to find that, in 2015, there is still no Government strategy, no consensus on what it should include, and no expectation that it will be published in this Parliament.”

Lord Bates, minister for criminal information, said: “There is an important role for images of those arrested and taken into custody in the detection and prevention of crime – but such images must be used in accordance with the law.

“This is a complex issue which needs careful consideration of the balance between public protection and civil liberties.

“That is why, as I have set out previously, we are reviewing the framework through which the police use custody images.

“We are grateful to the committee for its report and are considering the conclusions and recommendations.”

Published: Saturday 7th March 2015 by The News Editor

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