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UK Biometrics Commissioner offers praise, caution after gov’s police oversight reversal


The UK Biometrics and Surveillance Camera Commissioner Fraser Sampson approves of the government’s decision to not delegate oversight of police use of biometrics to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), while saying more needs to be done.

Sampson and others expressed disapproval of the government’s original plan to hand the oversight of police use of fingerprints and DNA biometrics to the ICO, which would have stripped the Biometrics and Surveillance Camera Commissioner of some of the office’s authority and transferred it to the ICO.

The UK reversed course, which Sampson says is a “sensible decision,” but suggests more needs to be done “on what they plan to do now with these particular important functions.”

Sampson remarks, “We now have an opportunity to come up with something really good, not only in relation to DNA and fingerprints, but also in relation to other existing and emerging biometric technology such as live facial recognition.” With the rapid pace of development in biometrics, he adds it is critical to assure the public about their lawful use in accordance to, “a set of clear bright line principles that will ensure the circumstances of their use are dictated by what society agrees is acceptable and not just what technology makes possible.”

Sampson was appointed to the combined role in March 2021 to oversee compliance with the nation’s Surveillance Camera Code and police rules for DNA and fingerprint biometrics use.

The government says it will instead look into whether the Investigatory Powers Commissioner can take on some of the powers of the Biometrics and Surveillance Camera Commissioner. Sampson responded by saying the decision would make “far more sense” than the alternatives laid out before. It also proposed to abolish the “duplication” between the ICO and Surveillance Camera Commissioner portion of Sampson’s role.

The Biometrics and Surveillance Camera Commissioner also says there must be a clearer, single definition of biometrics, as the current one only encompasses the use of fingerprints and DNA in policing, but leaves its use in schools untouched. There is also the need to address facial recognition, iris, vascular patterns, hormones, and gait as biometric, and building trust with the private sector in regard to their security and ethical values.

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