What's taking so long? pressed over continued delays to biometrics strategy

While you're at it, let's have some specifics on what you tell police about facial recog tech

By Rebecca Hill


The UK government has been told to get its act together and explain why its biometrics strategy still hasn't seen the light of day.

The Home Office has been promising a biometrics strategy since 2012, but it has been repeatedly delayed.

The latest push-back was revealed earlier this month, when minister Baroness Susan Williams told MPs on the science and technology committee it would not be published until next year.

Her letter admitted that the police were already using facial recognition technology, while pointing to the Custody Image Review as evidence that there was a policy on retention – although this has been slammed by critics as it puts the onus on innocent people to request that their images are deleted.

In response, committee chairman Norman Lamb has written (PDF) to Williams expressing his disappointment in the government's position and asked for more clarity on the delay.

"What aspects of the proposed strategy [have] caused particular problems?" he asked. "It would be helpful to know when a draft first reached ministers for consideration."

As well as calling for a "more precise estimate – beyond 'next year'" for the strategy, he also set out a series of concerns about the announcements to date.

"I remain concerned about how the [Custody Image] Review will be implemented as well as uncertainty on the government's position on other important areas – DNA, fingerprints and so on," he wrote.

This includes uncertainties over how the police actually use facial images and recognition technology, which Williams simply said was an "operational" decision for police.

"I would be grateful if you could provide details of any guidance or instructions that are given to police forces on this," Lamb said.

He also asked what role the Biometrics and Forensic Ethics Group – which has had its remit extended beyond just DNA – had in overseeing this, adding: "Is it not your intention for the Biometrics Strategy to address ethical issues and other importance guidance relating to the proper and appropriate use of facial imaging?" ®

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