UK Home Office biometrics strategy underwhelms after 6 year wait

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The UK Home Office has published its long-awaited biometrics strategy. The 27-page document (PDF) sets out a framework for use and development of biometric technology by a wide range of agencies under the purview of the Home Office.

The publication was originally due in 2012, and has been expected since Home Office Minister Susan Williams told a parliamentary Science and Technology Committee in February that it would be ready in June. The head of that committee Norman Lamb dismissed the document, saying it “simply does not do justice to the critical issues involved,” The Register reports.

The strategy includes a plan for an advisory board on government facial recognition policy, which was previously announced, and a proposed 12-month consultation on biometrics governance. It also reiterates previous claims that the court-order deletion of photos of people not convicted of a crime cannot be carried out with the technology platform currently in place.

It outlines a number of already-established uses for biometrics, such as by the justice system and at ports of entry.

Biometrics Commissioner Paul Wiles said the document should be welcomed, but expressed disappointment that it is not more forward-looking, and criticized the lack of proposals for legislation.

“The strategy lays out the current uses of biometric data and the development of new multi-user data platforms,” Wiles wrote in a response. “Unfortunately the strategy says little about what future plans the Home Office has for the use of biometrics and the sharing of biometric data. A debate is needed given the rapid improvements in biometric matching technologies and the increasing ability to hold and analyse large biometric databases.”

Wiles also called for the Home Office to broaden the mandate of the advisory board from governance of facial recognition to biometrics more generally. “What is actually required is a governance framework that will cover all future biometrics rather than a series of ad hoc responses to problems as they emerge,” he wrote.

“The government’s biometrics strategy is a major disappointment,” said Big Brother Watch director Silkie Carlo, per The Register. “After five years of waiting, it reads like a late piece of homework with a remarkable lack of any strategy.”

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