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Ethics group to look at Home Office use of data


Mark Say Managing Editor

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The non-departmental Biometrics and Forensics Ethics Group (BFEG) is to look at the ethical issues around the Home Office’s use of large datasets.

Its remit has been extended to provide independent oversight of the Data Ethics Governance Framework, which was established to ensure balanced consideration of the use of data within the Home Office.

Much of the work will focus on biometrics and forensics, taking in the application of technologies producing relevant data and identifiers, applications for research involving access to the data, and matters relating to its management, operation and use.

It will also deal with ethical issues relating to scientific services provided to police forces and other criminal justice organisations.

The move is aimed at strengthening the public’s assurance on the use of data within the department.

Protests and criticisms

Civil liberties groups have protested against its use of large datasets, and there have been specific criticisms of its approach to biometrics. Last year Parliament’s Science and Technology Committee found the Home Office does not hold data on how many people have asked for their facial images to be deleted, and the biometrics commissioner’s report highlighted the need for a governance structure for police forces’ use of facial imaging.

The Home Office’s Biometric Strategy, published last summer, includes plans for an advisory board, and the BFEG oversight is likely to reflect the wider concerns about large datasets.

Chris Hughes, chair of the BFEG, said: “With ever increasing volumes of data and the implementation of new data protection legislation it’s more appropriate than ever to expand the BFEG remit to consider large and complex datasets.

“The expansion will build on the committee’s existing work and will work to ensure that the use of an individual’s personal data is legitimate and proportionate, contributing to justified trust in the Home Office.”

Image (amended) by Leszek Leszczynski, CC BY 2.0 through flickr

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