U.K. Uneasy With “One Click” Crime Database
- By CDOTrends editors
- October 10, 2023
Plans to give U.K. police forces access to the nation's passport database to enhance their facial recognition capabilities to track criminals have been criticized by privacy groups, including the biometrics commissioner for England and Wales.
U.K. Policing Minister Chris Philip recently outlined the plans to integrate data from the police national database (PND), the Passport Office and other national databases to help police find matchups with "the click of one button."
“I’m going to be asking police forces to search all of those databases – the police national database, which has custody images, but also other databases like the passport database – not just for shoplifting, but for crime generally, to get those matches, because the technology is now so good that you can get a blurred image and get a match for it,” he said.
“Operationally, I’m asking them to do it now. In the medium term, by which I mean the next two years, we’re going to try to create a new data platform so you can press one button [and it] lets you search it all in one go.”
The use of images of people taken into custody but not convicted of crimes was the subject of a 2012 High Court ruling. The court found that it was unlawful because these images were being treated the same way as convicted people. The court also found that a six-year retention rule was disproportionate.
The move comes in the context of rising retail crime in the U.K., up 27% in the ten largest cities this year.
The retail industry is funding Project Pegasus, a project where police can use biometric facial recognition for searches.
The biometric and surveillance commissioner for England and Wales, Fraser Sampson, told a human rights committee of the U.K. parliament this year that “there are probably several million of those records still.”
"I'm not sure that works for public trust and confidence, but even if it did, you can't (legally) rely on a flaw in a database you built for unlawfully retaining stuff," said Sampson.
“That’s a technical problem that’s of the country’s and the police’s making rather than the people whose images you’ve kept.”
He said it was important that people did not feel that at any time they could be part of a “digital lineup” accessed by police.
Privacy lobby group Big Brother Watch described the move as “Orwellian.”
The Home Office's response has been to emphasize the need for law enforcement authorities to have the tools and technology they need to fight crime.
“Technology such as facial recognition can help the police quickly and accurately identify those wanted for serious crimes, as well as missing or vulnerable people,” the spokesperson said.
The Home Office has a Biometrics and Forensics Ethics Group, and in August 2023, announced it was looking for up to six new members, some of whom would have expertise in data ethics.
Image credit: iStockphoto/nicoletaionescu