UK police told to remove images of innocent people from police database on request

February 24, 2017 - 

The UK home secretary has ordered UK police agencies to delete on request millions of images of innocent people illegally stored on a national police database, according to a report by The Guardian.

According to a Home Office review, police agencies used more than 19 million images and videos, otherwise known as custody images, of individuals they have arrested or questioned on the police national database.

Despite a high court ruling in 2012 that made it unlawful for agencies to retain images of innocent people, police agencies continued to build up a massive database without implementing any of the controls or privacy measures relating to police DNA and fingerprint databases.

Home secretary Amber Rudd said that officers make significant use of custody images, which has become a standard practice of daily policing as field officers use the images to identify suspects, offenders and individuals on bail.

“The review acknowledges the important role that custody images and facial searching plays in the detection and prevention of crime. However, it recognizes the need to strike a careful balance between protecting individual privacy and giving the police the tools they need to keep us safe,” Rudd said.

“Accordingly, following consultation with key partners, the principal recommendation is to allow ‘unconvicted persons’ to apply for deletion of their custody image, with a presumption that this will be deleted unless retention is necessary for a policing purpose and there is an exceptional reason to retain it.

Since the “police national database does not link custody images to individual crime records,” the Home office said it would be an “extremely lengthy and resource intensive” process for police forces to review all 19 million images and delete those of individuals who were not convicted of an offence.

Bella Sankey, policy director of human rights group Liberty, said “The Home Office has been knowingly breaching the law for years – and all they’ve finally managed to come up with is a cop-out.”

The Science and Technology Committee has previously raised concerns about the lack of controls or security measures. In 2015 the Committee found that more than 12 million custody photos stored on the Police National Database had been entered without efficient testing or oversight.

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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.