Documents reveal UK government’s out-of-court settlements over unlawful biometrics storage

April 9, 2016 - 

The UK Home Office has been attempting to keep under wraps three out-of-court settlements with claimants who accused the police of unlawfully storing their biometric information, according to a report by The Register.

Independent Biometrics Commissioner, Alastair MacGregor QC, overseeing the government’s use of biometric data, has repeatedly brought up issues in the past regarding the retention of the biometrics of arrested individuals.

The Commissioner wrote in his annual report for 2015 that based on the PNC’s “limitations”, it was “always inevitable that some ‘wrongful’ retentions and deletions would occur and this has proved to be the case.”

“It seems likely that thousands of profiles and prints which should have been deleted have in fact been retained,” MacGregor said in his report. “It was suggested that, on a ‘worst case’ estimate, [one PNC problem] could have led to unlawful retention in about 140,000 cases” although the “true figure was likely to be very much smaller.”

In a National DNA Database Strategy Board meeting held in Birmingham on September 24, 2015, Home Office officials discussed the three cases which it was attempting to settle out of court.

The minutes of that meeting were published on March 15, but the minutes disappeared from the gov.UK site, however, a copy of them has since been posted online.

The Home Office also republished the minutes on the gov.UK website, following the publication of The Register report.

The minutes confirm the existence of three cases in which the department is “attempting to reach a settlement” with “no relevant convictions”, as well as mention of a further three cases in which “argument is proceeding on whether Home Office or MPS should be the defendant.”

The Science and Technology Committee of Parliament criticized the Home Office last year for significant delays in devising its original Forensics and Biometrics Strategy, which was not released on its original 2013 publication date.

To date, the Home Office has failed to bring forward a complete strategy that addresses biometrics, however, it has released a separate Forensics Strategy. As a result, the Home Office has been scrutinized in two reports from the biometrics commissioner and has received several inquiries from the government.

According to the minutes taken of the Birmingham meeting, officials discussed the biometrics strategy and confirmed that “a first draft” had been distributed internally within the Home Office.

However, the biometrics strategy still needed to be aligned with the Forensics Strategy, which the Home Office said it “has been working to develop the strategy, which will be published in due course.”

The Home Office declined to provide a statement to The Register, but it did emphasize that the document was removed on account of a “technical glitch”.

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About Justin Lee

Justin Lee has been a contributor with Biometric Update since 2014. Previously, he was a staff writer for web hosting magazine and website, theWHIR. For more than a decade, Justin has written for various publications on issues relating to technology, arts and culture, and entertainment. Follow him on Twitter @BiometricJustin.