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FBI to get UK biometric database hookup?

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The list of police and security forces which can gain automated access to UK law-enforcement biometric databases may be set to widen, according to reports.

The national databases of the US, UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand could be interlinked, under the so-called "Server in the Sky" initiative, the Times and the Guardian report today.

The five English-speaking nations already cooperate very closely on intelligence and security matters, with the UK SIS and Security Service (MI6 and MI5) routinely sharing information with their counterparts. There is little doubt that this sometimes includes biometric information or checks requested via police special-branch channels.

The UK's biometric databases may also soon be accessible by other European Union law-enforcement authorities, under protocols agreed last year.

Now, however, there is a plan to let the UK's trusted former colonies have routine law-enforcement access just as EU plods will, rather than needing to make individual requests as they already do or use spook channels.

The Guardian quotes an FBI spokesman as saying of "Server in the Sky":

Once complete it will provide a technical forum for member nations to submit biometric search requests to other nations. It will maintain a core holding of the world’s worst-of-the-worst individuals. Any identifications of these people will be sent as a priority message to the requesting nation.

It appears that the US is leading the initiative - which is curious as the original 1776 split between American and British jurisdiction was their idea.

The UK's biometric database is the responsibility of the National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA). Its millions of DNA signatures have been especially controversial of late, as one doesn't have to be a criminal - nor even, necessarily, been charged with a crime - in order to have one's DNA taken. This is, of course, just as true of fingerprints; but routine taking of fingerprints by UK cops for many decades has aroused comparatively little concern.

No new powers are being proposed here - police forces worldwide already share information, run identity checks and generally cooperate with one another. The "Server in the Sky" plans will merely automate the process. However, as is now common knowledge, automated information transfer sometimes leads to unforeseen and/or damaging consequences.

The Home Office confirmed to the Reg today that it was aware of the discussions, and that it approved in principle of any initiative which "improved investigatory powers, provided that adequate safeguards were built in".

NPIA spokesmen remained unavailable for comment as of publication, though they reportedly told the Gruan that it was too early to give details of UK participation.

More details at the Times and the Guardian. ®

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