Northern Ireland police agree to publish biometric data retention policy

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) has agreed to publish a formal public policy on biometric data retention as part of a settlement agreement for a court case brought by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC), Irish Legal News reports.

A complaint from an individual seeking deletion of fingerprint and DNA data collected after a 2009 arrest prompted the NIHRC to launch judicial review proceedings against the PSNI in December, 2017. No charges were brought in the matter, but the PSNI declined to delete the personal data because the individual had a previous conviction for common assault dating back to 1992.

The decision to retain the data, and the process behind it, violated Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights, which protects the individual’s right to private and family life, in NIHRC’s view. NIHRC Commissioner Les Allamby says the commission decided to support the case because it viewed finding out information about biometric data retained by police and why is unnecessarily difficult.

“The Commission acknowledges the importance of retaining DNA or fingerprints to assist with tackling crime. However, the Police must strike a proportionate balance when holding on to this sensitive personal material, having fully considered the individual’s right to respect for private life,” comments Allamby.

“The Commission is pleased that in response to this case the PSNI will now develop a clear policy addressing biometric data retention in Northern Ireland. It will make clearer to the public why their DNA or fingerprints may be retained, on what basis this may continue, and how to go about seeking its destruction. We are encouraging a quick implementation of this settlement to ensure that human rights continues to be a central tenet of how policing is delivered.”

The PSNI is now scheduled to publish its biometric data policy within the next 12 months. The policy will take human rights into account, and provide guidance for the public on how to find out about retention of their biometric records, and how to challenge it, according to the agreement.

Biometric data retention has been an ongoing issue in the UK, with a Biometric Data Bill going before Scottish Parliament in the wake of a slow-rolling disaster of missed deadlines and criticism over the policies and practices of UK government agencies and law enforcement.

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