UK biometrics commissioner hits out at plans for mugshot database
20 March 2017 16:31 GMT

The UK biometrics commissioner has slammed the findings of a Home Office review into the retention and use of custody images.

In his report, Professor Paul Wiles, commissioner for the Retention and Use of Biometric Material, states that authorities need to ensure that the use of facial images strikes an acceptable and proportionate balance between public benefit and individual privacy.

It is a response to a recently published Home Office review of the use and retention of custody images makes proposals as to a future governance of the police use of facial images in order to make their use more proportionate in response to the Court’s ruling.

Wiles notes that the review suggests that the retention and use of facial images is ‘generally less intrusive (than DNA or fingerprints) as many people’s faces are on public display all the time’.

" I disagree with that assertion", he writes. "In fact for that reason the use of facial images is more intrusive because image capture can be done using cameras in public places and searched against government databases without the subject being aware. Facial images are no longer only used solely for custody purposes and image capture and facial searching capabilities have and are being used by the police in public places."

He adds that any use of facial image database searching for intelligence purposes requires that users understand the scientific quality and reliability of the software and use a common process of interpretation and assessment that takes account of any weaknesses or biases in the overall system.

"To achieve this, the police need to move to a common database, matching software and interpretive process which can provide the best available quality and reliability and is understood by all those using the system. Such a new system ought to meet quality standards set by the Forensic Science Regulator."

Wiles' predecessor, Alastair MacGregor, had raised concerns over the fact that 12 million-plus custody photographs had been uploaded to the Police National Database and that facial recognition software being applied to them.