UK Home Office biometrics strategy now slated for June publication

UK Home Office minister Susan Williams says the department’s long-awaited biometrics strategy will be published in June, the Register reports. She also blamed the department’s continued retention of 21 million images of faces and identifying features on the lack of an automatic deletion mechanism.

Williams and director of data and identity Christophe Prince were questioned by the Science and Technology Committee about the strategy, which was due in 2012, as well as its response to a 2012 High Court ruling that the mass storage of images of individuals is unlawful.

As previously reported, the Home Office instructed agencies to delete images of individuals on request last year, but with only 233 individual’s images removed as of last month, the committee has been preparing for a full inquiry.

DNA and fingerprint data is automatically deleted from government databases, but Williams said the same process is not currently possible for the images due to differences between the systems. Committee members also asked witnesses about false positives in police use of automated facial recognition, but without receiving an answer, according to the Register.

Williams agreed that public trust in the system needed to be improved, and said that the release of the biometric strategy would contribute to that, but expressed puzzlement that the public would provide a wealth of data to a “faceless internet company” while suspicious of government data storage, to which committee chair MP Norman Lamb replied: “I suppose it’s because the government runs the criminal justice system.”

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