Biometrics Commissioner’s third Annual Report scrutinised by Big Brother Watch

The 2016 report of the Commissioner for the Retention and Use of Biometric Material was submitted to Home Secretary Amber Rudd on 14 March this year and has now been published for public consumption.

The role of the Biometrics Commissioner was established by the Protection of Freedoms Act (PoFA) 2012, with Paul Wiles appointed as the second Commissioner on 1 June 2016. Wiles’ role is to provide independent oversight of the regime which was established by the PoFA – and which came into force on 31 October 2013 – to govern the retention and use by the police in England and Wales of DNA samples, DNA profiles and fingerprints.

In addition to various casework responsibilities in relation to DNA and fingerprints, Wiles also has a UK-wide oversight function as regards their retention and use by the police on national security grounds.

Stretching to 125 pages, the detailed 2016 report deals primarily with developments since the publication of the Commissioner’s 2015 report. It covers his casework activities, the general operation of the PoFA regime and a variety of issues that have arisen in connection with its operation in both the normal policing and national security spheres.

Warnings and concerns

In response to the report, Renate Samson (CEO of Big Brother Watch) said: “We welcome the Biometric Commissioner’s warnings and concerns about the ongoing creation and retention of facial biometrics and facial recognition technology by police forces across the country. It’s of very serious concern that the Home Office appears to be so unwaveringly set on embedding facial biometric recognition technology into policing without debate, regulation, legislation or independent scrutiny.”

Samson continued: “Rather than throwing millions of pounds  at the building of such intrusive capabilities, the Home Office should be investing in updating police IT systems to ensure that the hundreds of thousands of innocent people’s custody images and facial biometrics are deleted automatically as soon as they’re released without charge, bringing them into line with DNA and fingerprints.”

Independent advice for ministers

Professor Paul Wiles has spent much of his career as an academic criminologist at a number of UK universities and is currently a governor at Sheffield Hallam University as well as a trustee of the National Centre for Social Research. Until 2015, Wiles served as an advisor to the Sentencing Council, and has also worked as a local Government boundary commissioner and sat on the Board of the Food Standards Agency.

Between 1999 and 2010, Wiles served as chief scientific advisor to the Home Office, duly providing independent advice to ministers on scientific evidence and the analysis and interpretation of data.

About the Author
Brian Sims BA (Hons) Hon FSyI, Editor, Risk UK (Pro-Activ Publications) Beginning his career in professional journalism at The Builder Group in March 1992, Brian was appointed Editor of Security Management Today in November 2000 having spent eight years in engineering journalism across two titles: Building Services Journal and Light & Lighting. In 2005, Brian received the BSIA Chairman’s Award for Promoting The Security Industry and, a year later, the Skills for Security Special Award for an Outstanding Contribution to the Security Business Sector. In 2008, Brian was The Security Institute’s nomination for the Association of Security Consultants’ highly prestigious Imbert Prize and, in 2013, was a nominated finalist for the Institute's George van Schalkwyk Award. An Honorary Fellow of The Security Institute, Brian serves as a Judge for the BSIA’s Security Personnel of the Year Awards and the Securitas Good Customer Award. Between 2008 and 2014, Brian pioneered the use of digital media across the security sector, including webinars and Audio Shows. Brian’s actively involved in 50-plus security groups on LinkedIn and hosts the popular Risk UK Twitter site. Brian is a frequent speaker on the conference circuit. He has organised and chaired conference programmes for both IFSEC International and ASIS International and has been published in the national media. Brian was appointed Editor of Risk UK at Pro-Activ Publications in July 2014 and as Editor of The Paper (Pro-Activ Publications' dedicated business newspaper for security professionals) in September 2015. Brian was appointed Editor of Risk Xtra at Pro-Activ Publications in May 2018.

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