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Increase DNA and fingerprint collection, UK Biometrics Commissioner urges police

While Bennet Institute urges co-governance model for live facial recognition
Categories Biometrics News  |  Law Enforcement
Increase DNA and fingerprint collection, UK Biometrics Commissioner urges police

Police are not collecting all the biometric data they are expected to, and at the same time have yet to provide requested guidance on extended DNA retention, an interim report from the UK Biometrics Commissioner says.

The December interim report was carried out without the regular visits to police forces that have been part of the normal process in the past, Commissioner Paul Wiles writes.

The report considers the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 (PoFA) regime, and notes that it is unclear if some experimental programs run by police are eligible for biometrics collection. It may be possible, depending on the program and suspected offense in a given case, for police to apply to the Commissioner to retain biometric data.

Exceptions based on the Criminal Procedure and Investigation Act 1996 (CPIA) which allow the retention of DNA data beyond the standard 6 months are also discussed in the document, and principles for CPIA exception use are included, as neither Home Office nor UK police have provided the guidance on the matter Wiles predecessor and government ministers agreed in 2016 was necessary.

Police are in fact not collecting DNA and fingerprint biometrics as often in situations in which they are entitled to do so, according to Wiles, which he says could undermine their forensic investigations.

The use of live automated facial recognition by UK police, and an Appeal’s Court decision on the matter are reviewed, with Wiles agreeing with Surveillance Camera Commissioner Tony Porter’s assessment that the ruling applies to the specific implementation of live facial recognition, not the technology in general.

The Bennet Institute for Public Policy has published a working paper on the governance of live facial recognition systems in England and Wales, meanwhile. The organization attempts to define an ideal governance framework for the technology over the course of the 40-page paper.

A combination of implicit trust on the part of the public, and trust arrived at through analysis on the part of stakeholders together make up “well-placed societal trust,” according to the paper’s author Fengyu (Isabella) Duan. Duan sets out the current governance landscape, and interviews 23 stakeholders from among academia, industry, civil society and government.

Duan finds that there are “distinctive and often conflicting assumptions” between police and other stakeholders on how to interpret evidence and who has authority in those interpretations, which requires “a layered co-governance framework” to resolve.

The report suggests that the UKs Counter-Terrorism Command could apply data analytics to help with the National Security Determinations (NSDs) that are required to retain biometrics for counter-terrorism. This could reduce the associated workload, which Wiles says made up “a significant part” of the role, and enable a better understanding of how the data is used, which the supporting legislation mandates review of, but is highly challenging at this time.

The report touches on third-party access to police databases, the 2019 Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act, which extends NSD retention periods from two to five years, and the impact of COVID-19 on biometrics collection and storage. It also addresses the broad issues of international exchanges of biometric data, and the role of Commissioners in government.

Biometric technologies have “mutated rapidly” in both capabilities and application during Wiles tenure, he says, urging government to consider regulation not as an impediment to technological innovation, but as necessary to strategic areas like the biometric identification which is expected to play a major role in economic recovery and social interactions.

Wiles concludes by thanking those who have supported him during his time in the Biometrics Commissioner’s role, and reiterating the support the new commissioner will need in filling both it and the role of Surveillance Camera Commissioner. He also dismisses the denials “by some officials” that the roles have been merged as simply “casuistry.”

“Simplifying accountability is hardly objectionable but it was Parliament that decided that PoFA should create two separate commissioners,” he argues.

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