Home Office publishes biometrics strategy
28 June 2018 20:36 GMT

The Home Office has today published a Biometrics Strategy, which sets out work to improve the use of biometric data and strengthen its oversight.

Home Office biometrics include fingerprints, DNA and facial images, which are used by law enforcement and immigration agencies to keep people safe. For example, the use of DNA by police and other law enforcement partners helped link 32,000 known individuals to crimes, including 700 rapes in 2016-17 alone. Biometric information is also used by the department to check passports at e-gates and identify visa applicants.

The strategy outlines the work of the innovative Home Office Biometrics programme, which is developing a centralised system to make the use of biometric information faster, cheaper and more accurate.

The Home Office recognises its role in providing the public with confidence that personal information is being handled properly and securely, and sets out in the strategy how it is strengthening safeguards as technology advances.

Initiatives include:

Creating an oversight and advisory board to consider law enforcement’s use of facial images and new biometric technologies
Publishing Data Protection Impact Assessments prior to the use of a new biometric technology or a new application of an existing biometric technology
Updating the Surveillance Camera Code of Practice in collaboration with the Surveillance Camera Commissioner

Home Office Minister, Baroness Williams of Trafford, said:

“Biometric data plays a vital role in keeping people safe from crime and terrorism - but we must ensure that privacy is respected.

“This strategy makes clear that we will grasp the opportunities that technology brings while remaining committed to strengthening safeguards.”

Starting with fingerprints, the Home Office Biometrics programme is integrating various databases onto a single platform. It is also developing new state-of-the-art algorithms to improve matching capabilities and will ensure services have in-built safeguards so that information is only accessed for specific purposes.

Previously, Home Office biometric services were developed for individual purposes, leading to multiple IT systems and varying standards and capabilities. There is one fingerprint system for policing and another for visas and immigration, for example, which makes cross-checking costly and time consuming.

The strategy also details current arrangements for how the collection, retention and use of biometric information is overseen and governed. These include legislation, such as the Data Protection Act, and the existence of four independent commissioners and regulators – the Biometrics Commissioner, Forensic Science Regulator, Information Commissioner and Surveillance Camera Commissioner.

The four commissioners and regulators will be invited to be part of the new oversight and advisory board. Its duties will include ensuring that use of facial images conforms with legislation and codes of practice and informing Government’s consideration of any changes to legislation and regulation that may be required.