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"Biometric Strategy" foresees a single centralised biometric platform - UK Big Brother?
8.7.18
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The Home Office has produced a: Biometric Strategy: Better public services Maintaining public trust (pdf) together with the Biometrics Commissioner’s response to the Home Office Biometrics Strategy (pdf).

The Strategy opens with the following statement:

"The use of biometric data is fundamental to the proper functioning of our immigration system, to law enforcement and to those responsible for preventing terrorism. Biometrics allow us to fix a person’s identity by linking them to biographical information, to verify who a person is or to identify them amongst many others."

To the known biometrics DNA, fingerprinting and facial images it is suggested that in addition:

"Technological advancements are making new forms of biometric data available, such as voice or gait."

The document is littered with references to civil liberties and privacy concerns.

There is a single reference to the most important objective which will combine biometric with detailed personal information in the Home Office Biometric Programme (HOB):

"the implementation of a single biometrics platform will remove duplication and costly or inefficient workarounds in operational delivery. This platform is not a new data set, rather a technical platform through which existing data can be more efficiently dealt with. This will also make it easier to use biometric data more widely across the Home Office, operational bodies such as police forces and the National Crime Agency, other Government Departments and international partners. By bringing these together, HOB will deliver biometric services that will enable greater operational efficiency, flexibility, integration and automation."

Biometrics Commissioners's response

"The strategy lays out the current uses of biometric data and the development of new multi-user data platforms. Unfortunately the strategy says little about what future plans the Home Office has for the use of biometrics and the sharing of biometric data. A debate is needed given the rapid improvements in biometric matching technologies and the increasing ability to hold and analyse large biometric databases.

While the use of biometric data may well be in the public interest for law enforcement purposes and to support other government functions the public benefit must be balanced against loss of privacy. Biometric data is especially sensitive because it is most intrusive of our individual privacy and for that reason who decides the balance is as important as what is decided. Legislation carries the legitimacy that Parliament decides that crucial question.

It is disappointing that the Home Office document is not forward looking as one would expect from a strategy. In particular it does not propose legislation to provide rules for the use and oversight of new biometrics, including facial images."

Tony Bunyan, Statewatch Director, comments:

"These proposals seem remarkably similar - and equally worrying - to the current debate in the EU over the dangers of creating a centralised biometric and personal information database.

The difference is that in the EU similar measures are decided through the normal legislative procedure by the co-legislators the Council and the parliament. While as the Commissioner notes in the UK the new strategy will be implemented by the government without legislation."

Background

EDPS calls for wider debate on the future of information sharing in the EU (Press release, 16 April 2018, pdf) and Opinion (16 April 2018, full-text, pdf)

Statewatch Analysis: The “Point of no return”: Interoperability morphs into the creation of a Big Brother centralised EU state database including all existing and future Justice and Home Affairs databases (pdf)

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