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Northern Ireland police agree to delete biometric records after human rights ruling

Categories Biometrics News  |  Law Enforcement


Northern Ireland police (PSNI) will be deleting DNA records in “real-time” starting September, following the European Court of Human Rights’ ruling that an indefinite repository of profiles, photos and fingerprints of drunk drivers represents a human rights violation, writes the Irish Times.

A man arrested for drunk-driving in 2008 took PSNI to court for storing his biometric data, an action that was ruled “without reference to the severity of his offence.”

The UK supreme court had previously ruled that the benefits to storing the DNA information of those convicted prevailed over their rights. Judges in Strasbourg overturned the decision.

The most recent decision of the European court regarding biometric data storage was that Northern Ireland Police did not break the law, as it was compliant with the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (Pace). However, it breached the right to privacy.

“It is currently envisaged that this will fully commence in September 2020 with real-time deletions of Pace materials,” PSNI chief constable Simon Byrne told the Policing Board.

Since there is no legislative framework, a biometric retention/disposal ratification committee was founded in 2015, and has been meeting to discuss biometric deletion requests and to ensure the protection of individual rights.

“The police service will of course continue to support this critical piece of work and are actively engaged with both partners. PSNI will also seek the views of Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission,” added Byrne.

According to Commission chief Les Allamby, PSNI has a database of nearly 250,000 fingerprints and approximately 200,000 DNA profiles.

“The commission has engaged extensively and productively with the PSNI towards publishing a clear and public policy on the retention of biometric material including provision for review,” Allamby said.

“As a result of the Gaughran case, there will be a need to develop both legislation and further revised policy guidance urgently to ensure the rules and circumstances for keeping biometric data meet human rights standards.”

In January, PSNI 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).

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