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UK Biometrics Forensics Ethics Group to advise Home Office on data protection and policing initiatives



The UK’s Biometric Forensics Ethics Group (BEFG) has its marching orders for the upcoming year, which include organizing working groups for the Home Office Biometrics (HOB) initiative, the use of large and complex datasets, and the access to and retention of biometric and forensic data.

The group’s policy sponsor Alex MacDonald setting out the group’s focus areas in a Commissioning letter.

MacDonald wants the BEFG to continue to provide advice to the HOB and related Home Office projects at an early stage of project development, and help HOB with data protection impact assessments.

On the second point, MacDonald writes that the group should advise projects considering adopting explainable data-driven technologies, and contribute to guidance which is being developed for data scientists. The suggestion from the Chair’s 2019 commission summary that the group stand up an ethical review process for emerging Home Office projects leveraging machine learning is also welcomed.

Home Office was reported in August to have signed a contract worth over $9 million with IBM to develop a biometric ‘mega-database’ in part to “prevent crime.” Leidos was contracted late last year to combine the IABS database used for immigration and border identity checks and the IDENT1 law enforcement database for $124 million.

The group is also asked to develop a data ethics advisory service to provide guidance and support to Home Office projects, making use of the data ethics framework supplied by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. This would involve defining the terms of service and testing the proposed process by working through multiple use cases. Following this, input into ethics guidance and procedures specific to certain disciplines would be sought from the group.

The group’s guidance on different approaches to the collection, use, retention and deletion of biometrics and digital forensic material, and on ethical issues related to aggregating this data for data-driven policing or training algorithms to improve digital forensics tools, is also requested.

The group has a presence on the Forensic Information Databases Strategy (FINDS) Board, and MacDonald says ad hoc advise may be sought from the group on various other policies and projects.

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