UK govt responds to biometric criticism
01 July 2019 20:48 GMT

The UK government has hit back after the country's biometrics commissioner slammed its treatment of data.

Earlier this week, in his annual report, which has been laid before parliament, Paul Wiles said he was "very concerned" about the way the Ministry of Defence searched the police national fingerprint database "without an agreed, clearly defined lawful basis".

Mr Wiles also raised concerns that police use of biometrics "could be used in ways that risks damaging the public interest, for example by re-enforcing biases".

However, the government has responded in a statement that claims it has acted appropriately, with Baroness Williams of Trafford writing:

"The Government welcomes the recent debates on this, inside and outside Parliament, which are necessary and right in a democratic society. lt is also right that the police have to act in accordance with the law, and South Wales Police currently await judgment in the judicial review of their trials of automatic facial recognition, in which we have been supporting them. We committed in the Biometrics Strategy 2018 to develop options to simplify and extend the governance and oversight arrangement of biometrics and will update Parliament shortly on this work".

The govt comment adds:

"You state that increased use of voluntary interviews rather than arrest has led to a reduction in the taking of biometrics and the potential effect of reducing the utility of national biometric databases. The Forensic Information Databases Service is researching the causes and scale of reduced taking of biometrics and will report on this to the FINDS Strategy Board in July.

"You also state that reforms to bail in 2017 with the aim of reducing long periods spent on bail have resulted in the problem being moved to persons ‘released under investigation’, large backlogs of cases and some illegal retention of biometrics."

"The use of the bail and the expeditious resolution of investigations remains an operational matter for the police, and forces retain the freedom to both impose bail and to put in place other necessary procedures to manage ‘released under investigation’ cases. The Home Office continues to monitor the impact of reforms through the cross criminal justice Pre-Charge Bail implementation board, and the NPCC have produced clear guidance on how RUI and bail cases should be managed effectively."

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