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Home Office plans advisory board for biometrics



Strategy document prompts criticism from commissioner for failing to propose legislation

The Home Office is looking to enable an increased use of biometrics technology for policing, immigration controls and other public services while improving the relevant governance – largely through the creation of an advisory board – under its new Biometrics Strategy.

The publication has, however, prompted criticisms from the biometrics commissioner for falling short in a lack of proposals for legislation.

Among the key elements in the strategy – much of which is devoted to outlining the potential of different biometrics – are plans to integrate different fingerprint services, use facial matching to verify individuals at ports of entry, make the review and deletion of custody images more efficient, and consider the case for sharing and matching facial images between Home Office agencies and other parts of government.

More specifically, the Home Office Biometrics Programme is bringing together the two main fingerprint systems and developing a common facial matching service, and there are plans for proof of concept trials of automatic facial recognition to identify known criminals. The latter could extend to accessing the image collections at custody suites and on police mobile devices.

Trust issues

The strategy recognises that the Home Office has to deal with issues around public trust in how the data is used and says an oversight and advisory board will be set up to make policy recommendations on facial images.

The department will also undertake data protection impact assessments prior to the use of a new biometric technology and for each element of its programme, and develop options for better governance in the field.

Publication of the strategy prompted a critical response from Paul Wiles, the biometrics commissioner, who said that while it should be welcomed as a basis for public support it falls short on recommendations.

“It is disappointing that the Home Office document is not forward looking as one would expect from a strategy,” he said.

“In particular it does not propose legislation to provide rules for the use and oversight of new biometrics, including facial images. This is in contrast to Scotland where such legislation has been proposed.

“Given that new biometrics are being rapidly deployed or trialed this failure to set out more definitively what the future landscape will look like in terms of the use and governance of biometrics appears short sighted at best.”

He acknowledged the strategy’s proposal for an oversight and advisory board and said that, while this can only make recommendations on governance rather than legislation, he hopes it will develop a set of principles that could ultimately underpin new laws.

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

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