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Ethics Group to Probe UK Government Biometrics Policy

Ross Kelly


UK Government Biometrics

Privacy rights groups said the move is a welcome step, but long-delayed action on the retention of biometric data by UK public bodies is still an issue that must be addressed.


The Biometrics and Forensics Ethics Group (BFEG) has been asked to examine ethical issues relating to large and complex data sets.

The BFEG will provide independent oversight of the Data Ethics Governance Framework, established to ensure the “balanced consideration of the use of data within the Home Office”.

The UK Government said the move is aimed at “strengthening the public’s assurance on the use of data” by the Home Office. The government body has previously been criticised over its increased use of biometric data, which privacy rights groups have said lacks oversight or appropriate legislation.

As part of its work, the BFEG will consider ethical issues relating to scientific services provided to the police service and other public bodies within the criminal justice.

The application and operation of technologies, which produce biometric and forensic data and identifiers, will also be a key focus of the BFEG, the Group said.

The use of biometric and forensic data by police services across the UK has been subject to intense scrutiny in the past 12 months. In London, pilot schemes to test the effectiveness of automated facial recognition technology have drawn criticism from civil rights groups, which claim the technology is intrusive.

Related: Police Super Database Poses a “Grave Risk” to Civil Liberties

Additionally, the group will examine the management and operation of biometric data, as well as its overall use by public bodies.

Chris Hughes OBE, chair of the BFEG, commented: “With ever-increasing volumes of data and the implementation of new data protection legislation it’s more appropriate than ever to expand the BFEG remit to consider large and complex data sets.

“The expansion will build on the committee’s existing work and will work to ensure that the use of an individual’s personal data is legitimate and proportionate, contributing to justified trust in the Home Office.”

Matthew Rice, Scotland director at the Open Rights Group, said the move is a welcome step, but long-delayed action on the retention of biometric data by UK police services is still an issue that must be addressed.

“Expanding the remit of the BFEG is a welcome step but the aim of strengthening the public’s assurance comes from action being taken to meet the rights they are entitled to,” he said. “Hopefully the BFEG can help to push the Government into taking action that has been long delayed.

“The Government has already been told by the UK Supreme Court back in 2012 that practices by the Metropolitan Police of retaining biometrics data of innocent people indefinitely is unlawful,” Rice added. “They have dragged their feet in actually implementing this principle when it comes to photographs.”

Ross Kelly

Staff Writer

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