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The FAQ on UK data retention czar's shady video past

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Privacy International is concerned with some pretty serious issues, so it's understandable that it's ordinarily pretty serious itself. But the appointment of Bob Lack to run the UK Home Office's data retention consultation has moved it to produce a Lack FAQ, which is amusing in a knockabout sort of way until you remember that this is a pretty serious issue too.

Former policeman Lack became Group Leader of Security for Newham Borough Council in 1996, and commenced acting as spinmeister in chief for Newham's CCTV facial recognition schemes, which have since acted as a sort of toilet down which the Home Office has chucked piles of money, and also as a stalking horse for the facial recognition wet dreams of our control-freak politicians. Privacy International describes the Lack/Home Office relationship as "symbiotic... The Home Office has generously funded Mr Lack's CCTV projects, to the tune at least two million pounds, while he in turn through massive media exposure has created a public image of CCTV that makes the Home Office look cool and sophisticated."

Indeedy. The FAQ covers the vexed and mysterious question of whether or not the Newham recognition system has ever actually resulted in an arrest. Mr Lack's statements to various papers on the subject seem contradictory, and the New York Times seems to have concluded that he is perhaps something of a fibber, even a self-confessed one.

It doesn't include our favourite clipping, James Meek of The Guardian's report of not being nicked by the system after he'd been scanned in alongside known local criminals. Showing commendable initiative, Meek contacted DI Ian Chiverton, the local police officer responsible for liaising with the scheme. He volunteered the information:

"There have never been more than 20 or 25 faces on the system. They've been weeded on a monthly basis. We've chosen what we call our nominal criminals, so they would be convicted burglars and robbers, but only one facial shot [of each] was ever put on. And there has never been a recognition of that facial shot."

Chiverton explained that the facial recognition system needs pictures from at least five different angles, and given that the Metropolitan Police doesn't handle mugshots that way, you can see the problem. And indeed ythe problem with excitable politicians trying to implement this sort of stuff to catch terrorist suspects - got five angles of many of these?

On the upside, if it can't recognise anybody it's possibly not a major threat to privacy, yet. Which is possibly more than you can say for the data retention consultation, given who's running it... ®

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