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Outgoing UK commish leaves advice for law enforcement use of biometrics and drones

Outgoing UK commish leaves advice for law enforcement use of biometrics and drones

Professor Fraser Sampson, who recently announced that he will step down as the UK’s Biometrics and Surveillance Camera Commissioner at the end of October, has offered some final counsel on regulating uncrewed aerial vehicles (UAVs) – better known to most as drones.

The results of a survey Sampson conducted found that, while “police forces in the UK routinely use drones equipped with high-definition cameras, night vision or thermal imaging capability” for a variety of surveillance activities, most forces using them could not say which make or model they were using, or how long they had been in use.

“Forces were uncertain of the security risks around the use of UAVs and what protocols they have in place to mitigate them,” says the summary.

The findings are of particular concern in light of Sampson’s larger questions about data security in law enforcement. In a recent response to a consultation by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner (OPC) on the governance of biometric data, Sampson cited “recently-reported data breaches from police forces around the UK,” which have “underscored the continuing need for vigilance and scrutiny around data storage policies, practices and remedies.”

On the question of drones, Professor Sampson lands on much the same conclusion he does with regards to biometric regulation – namely, choose your friends wisely.

“Guidance needs to be made available to forces on the procurement and deployment of surveillance technology from companies whose trading history and engagement with accountability frameworks has raised significant concern,” Sampson wrote, also calling for increased accountability measures from police and municipal bodies.

The outgoing commissioner says he is leaving his post for personal reasons. But he has made known his belief that the biometrics commissioner would be rendered irrelevant by the passing of the UK’s Data Protection and Digital Information Bill.

Sampson has advocated for biometric regulations that cast a wide net across sectors, methods and technologies. He recommends establishing “a set of clear, indefeasible principles by which agencies will be held transparently and auditably to account for their use of biometrics.”

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