It may have escaped many people’s attention that the UK’s civil service even has a post such as Commissioner for the Retention and Use of Biometric Material. But such an office exists, and from it comes the news that proposals are under way to expand the criteria by which biometric data on citizens can be retained for future use.
Responding to the Biometric Commissioner’s annual 2015 report, which expressed exasperation about the then-government’s lack of oversight regarding retention and use of biometric data in the UK, Brandon Lewis MP, Minister of State for Policing and the Fire Service, has declared his intention to lay before Parliament proposed expansions for cases when biometric data taken from the public will be retained. Lewis, writing to Professor Paul Wiles, who is currently the Commissioner for the Retention and Use of Biometric Material, says that he will take this action before the end of the year.
The proposed expansion particularly affect citizens detained, but ultimately released, by the police. Under section S63G of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) 1984, fingerprints and DNA material obtained from a suspect during processing must be destroyed upon completion of the investigation of the offence.
In the letter to Wiles, Lewis states:
‘Your predecessor suggested that it would be useful to revisit the list of qualifying offences, and that consideration should be given to adding offences to the list relating to the possession of offensive weapons and importation of Class A drugs and their possession with intent to supply. We now intend to lay a Statutory Instrument before Parliament to add further offences to the qualifying offences list before the end of this year.’
The Policing and Crime Bill currently before Parliament is already proposing that retention of DNA in acquitted arrests be allowed on the basis of ‘convictions elsewhere’ – presumed to mean a history of any convictions, in any category.
The letter further notes that biometric data deletion often happens in cases where the data might have been kept for longer in the interests of national security – known as ‘National Security Determinations’ (NSD). In such cases delays and other handling logistics can cause the data to be destroyed under statutory legislation before review on the basis of NSD is possible.
Lewis also addresses the concern that guidance issued by the implementation of the Protection of Freedom Act (PoFA) allows investigating forces to retain a subject’s biometric data during the investigation of a match, even if the subject has not been arrested. The MP notes that this implementation is at odds with privacy decrees embedded in PACE, and that arrest will be critical in allowing for extended biometric data retention.
The letter also responds to a call from the 2015 report for the police to be allowed to retain facial recognition data, besides the more customary use of fingerprints and DNA. The delayed Custody Image Review, which was due in June of this year, will apparently also address this issue.