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UK Biometrics Commissioner releases annual report

Categories Biometrics News  |  Law Enforcement

UK Biometrics Commissioner Alastair R. MacGregor publicly released his first annual report yesterday.

The Biometrics Commissioner is independent of the UK Government. His role is to keep under review the retention and use by the police of DNA samples, DNA profiles and fingerprints. The post was created in 2012 under the Protection of Freedoms Act.

His report for 2013-2014 was submitted to the UK Home Office in November and a copy was provided to the UK Parliament on December 16.

The detailed report maintains the Biometrics Commissioner’s position that there will rarely be compelling reasons to believe that the continued retention of a subject’s DNA profile or fingerprints may assist in an investigation or prosecution of an offence.

According to the Protection of Freedoms Act, when a person without previous convictions is arrested for, but not charged with, an offence, their fingerprints and DNA profile may usually be
retained only until the conclusion of the investigation of that offence.

If, however, that offence is a ‘qualifying’ offence, which includes a serious violent, sexual or terrorist offence or burglary, the responsible police chief may apply to the Biometrics Commissioner for consent to the extended retention of that person’s DNA profile and/or fingerprints.

If the Biometrics Commissioner accedes to that application, the profile and fingerprints can be retained for three years from the date that the relevant sample or fingerprints were taken.

The Commissioner notes in the report however that most investigations invariably lead to no further action. Consequently, he argues that biometric data need not be retained. He also maintains that in the event an investigation of the same offence is ‘resumed’ after the deletion or destruction of a subject’s DNA profile or fingerprints, police have the option to retake DNA or fingerprint samples.

These findings are philosophically in line with the Biometrics Commissioner’s statements during consultations with the Home Office earlier this year which recommended that early deletion of biometric data should take place if no crime was committed, and also if a malicious or false allegation is made. The Commissioner also recommended that early deletion should take place if a proven alibi is established or if suspect status is not clear at the time of arrest.

In addition to these types of recommendations, the new 125-page report examined “speculative searching” of DNA profiles and fingerprints and the international sharing of biometric material. The report also looked at problems surrounding biometric data extraction and retention and discussed routine administrative details concerning the the Office of the Biometrics Commissioner.

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