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UK Home Office balks at complying with face image deletion order due to expense


Despite a six-year old High Court ruling that mass retention of facial images is unlawful, a committee of UK MPs has been told that the Home Office cannot delete images of innocent people because it would be too expensive.

Home Office minister for biometrics Baroness Williams told the committee in a letter that the deletion would have to be conducted manually by local forces, unless all 43 local systems and the police national database (PND) are upgraded. She noted that the Home Office does plan to upgrade the technology “in the medium term,” UKAuthority reports, but provided no timetable.

“Any weeding exercise will have significant costs and be difficult to justify given the off-setting reductions forces would be required to find in order to fund it,” Williams writes.

The letter also states that the UK Home Office is currently unsure how many people have requested the deletion of their images, after the Home Office instructed agencies last year to comply with requests for deletion from people not convicted of a crime.

The Home Office is slated to publish a long-overdue biometrics strategy in June. A House of Commons committee chaired by Liberal Democrat Norman Lamb is preparing an inquiry into the image database, following criticism from the government’s Biometric Commissioner and others.

“It appears that the police are making-do with current systems and practices even if it results in images of innocent people being retained,” Lamb commented. He also notes that it appears that some individuals are not aware that they are included in the database, which stores images of roughly one third of the UK’s population.

Fujitsu was recently reported to have won a contract with the Home Office to provide a Biometric Matcher Platform and associated Services (BMPS).

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