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Government criticised for five year delay in producing biometrics strategy

The government has drawn criticism after again delaying the publication of a report on its biometrics strategy.

The Home Office first promised to draw up a strategy for biometric technologies, which include face and fingerprint recognition, in 2012. Last week counter-extremism minister Baroness Susan Williams told MPs on the Science and Technology Committee that the report would be released next year.

Williams’ letter admitted, though, that the police are already using face recognition – without any legal guidance.

A Home Office review in February found that the police hold a database of more than 19 million images and videos (custody images) of individuals that they have arrested or questioned. This was ruled illegal in 2012 by the High Court in London, as the people on file were not necessarily guilty of anything.

The ‘Review of the Use and Retention of Custody Images‘ policy, released this year (five years after the High Court ruling) dictates that these files should be deleted – but only if the subject of the image requests it. Even then, the police can deny the request if the image is needed ‘for a policing purpose’.

Norman Lamb, chair of the Science and Technology Committee, said that the delay on an official biometrics policy was “intolerable”.

In an open letter, Lamb requested more clarity on the cause of the delay, asking, “What aspects of the proposed strategy [have] caused particular problems?” He added, “It would be helpful also…to have a more precise estimate – beyond ‘next year’ – for when the Strategy will appear.”

Lamb also raised concerns over how the Custody Image Review will be implemented and how the police actually use facial images and recognition technology.

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