Biometric official raises privacy concerns over UK police database
16 March 2015 12:06 GMT

Of 18 million mugshots stored in the UK database, “hundreds of thousands” are innocent people, says biometric official.

The UK’s independent Biometrics Commissioner has raised privacy concerns over the inclusion of people who have never been charged with or convicted of a crime in an extensive facial recognition database maintained by the British police.

Image of British citizens have been uploaded without Home Office approval and without the knowledge of independent watchdogs, Alastair MacGregor QC told BBC Newsnight, with every police force in England and Wales supplying photographs.

He said that of the 18 million mugshots stored in the database, that “hundreds of thousands” are innocent people who haven’t been implicated in any offense, adding that he had concerns about the reliability of facial recognition technology.

"If the facial recognition software throws up a false match, one of the consequences of that could easily send an investigation off into the completely wrong direction," he said.

Last July, Leicestershire Police launched trials with face recognition software. Supplied by NEC, the NeoFace system is capable of comparing any digital image - such as CCTV or police body camera footage - with any photo held on the Leicestershire Police database.

Andy Ramsay, identification manager at Leicestershire Police, told Newsnight the force now had a database with 100,000 custody photos. He added that searches of the database using facial recognition were 100% reliable in cases where there were clear images, and could be completed in seconds.

British police have confirmed that the database criticised by the Biometrics Commissioner complies with the Data Protection Act.

In  2012, two people went to Britain’s High Court to force the Metropolitan Police to delete their photos from databases.

In the United States, the FBI’s Next Generation Identification (NGI) system has been designed to include non-criminal as well as criminal facial images. By 2015, the database is expected include 4.3 million images taken for non-criminal purposes. The FBI hadn’t previously linked criminal and non-criminal fingerprint databases.

Traditionally, FBI criminal history records were filed or indexed using an FBI Number (FNU) and this number identified the existence of a criminal history record. However, the FNU will now be replaced by a Universal Control Number (UCN) and will store both criminal and civil identities. Therefore a UCN may contain criminal records, civil records, or both. 

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