UK police using biometric database without proper regulations in place

February 3, 2015 - 

UK police forces are crosschecking suspects against a massive database that stores up to 18 million mugshots, all without having proper regulations in place, according to a report by Mail Online.

Without notifying the Home Office or watchdogs, police forces across England and Wales have set up an enormous database of images – many of which were taken of individuals when they were arrested but not formally charged with a crime.

Biometrics commissioner Alastair MacGregor is worried about the implications of “hundreds of thousands” of innocent individuals being included in the database, along with the potential of false matches as he contends that there has not been sufficient testing of facial recognition systems.

MacGregor said he is concerned that “important privacy and civil liberties issues have not been addressed.”

And while he feels that facial recognition could be “tremendously useful” in combating crime, he thinks “its value will be very significantly undermined if the public cannot have confidence in it and cannot feel there are proper controls.”

MacGregor said the High Court had ordered police in 2012 to establish regulations regarding the use of mugshots but they have yet to put these rules in place.

Chief Constable Mike Barton, the national police lead on facial recognition, has admitted that the police had “no legislative framework”.

A spokesperson for Leicestershire Police said the force began using the facial recognition system of 100,000 images last year and that it has been 100% accurate if the images were clear.

However, former Tory shadow home secretary David Davis is not convinced.

“You cannot treat innocent people the same way you treat guilty people,” said Davis. “You should not misuse the data in this way. No facial recognition software is 100 percent reliable.”

Additionally, Liberal Democrat Cabinet Office minister David Laws has called for the establishment of regulations to control the use of the database.

The Home Office said it was reviewing the legal framework for the use of these images.

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About Stephen Mayhew

Stephen Mayhew is the publisher and co-founder of Biometrics Research Group, Inc.. His experience includes a mix of entrepreneurship, brand development and publishing. Stephen attended Carleton University and lives in Toronto, Canada. Connect with Stephen on LinkindIn.