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Researcher warns of illegally retained biometric samples in UK

Misaligned legislation could cause issues with police enforcement action
Categories Biometrics News  |  Law Enforcement
Researcher warns of illegally retained biometric samples in UK

A substantial amount of biometric data collected from individuals arrested, or convicted of criminal offenses in the UK would fall outside the protective measures created by its individual retention frameworks.

The research comes from a new study by Post-Doctoral Researcher Karen Richmond of the University of Copenhagen.

In the article, published on Policinginsight, Richmond acknowledged the benefits of DNA and fingerprint databases in preventing, investigating, and prosecuting crime.

She also praised the creation of Biometric Commissioners in England and Wales in 2012, and in Scotland last year (SBC). For context, the Northern Ireland Department of Justice is also in the process of creating a Biometric Commissioner for its jurisdiction.

However, according to the researcher, the three legal jurisdictions of the United Kingdom would fail in protecting DNA and fingerprint biometric data of individuals from Scotland and Northern Ireland when said data is copied to the UK databases.

In other words, the Commissioner for England and Wales currently has no oversight over Scottish samples, and vice versa, making the retaining of said data by each jurisdiction legal, but their copies by other jurisdictions illegal and unprotected.

In addition, at a national level, the biometric samples of repeat offenders would be held alongside those taken from children and young persons, as well as offenders linked to less serious crimes, calling for a more nuanced subdivision of data.

This lack of regulations, Richmond explained, could affect more than a million people and constitute a violation of Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR), which provides respect for private and family life, home, and correspondence.

According to the Post-Doctoral Researcher, a possible solution to this issue would be to amend the relevant section of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 to extend the authority of England’s Biometric Commissioner to biometric samples collected under the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act and the PACENI framework.

In addition, to facilitate the role of the Biometric Commissioner in England across the UK, its assembly should include in the future representatives from the SBC and the Northern Ireland Biometric Commissioner.

This would not only protect the biometric data that is currently exposed and unregulated, but also facilitate its handling by a joint group of Biometric Commissioners across the country.

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