Home Office comes under fire over biometrics delay

GDS plans to increase AI, Biometrics use in public sector

After months and months of promise from the Home Office to get its biometrics platform up and running, the irritation finally came to a head yesterday.

MPs were given an intense grilling at an evidence session yesterday morning, regarding its approach to the biometrics platform and its delayed launch.

The Home Office biometrics platform was due to go live almost six years ago, but now MPs have come under fire with pressured questions on why it has not been delivered.

Susan Williams, Home Office Minister, and Chris Prince, the department’s director of data and identity were the targets of yesterday’s session. The pair were put on the stand in front of the Science and Technology Committee to answer questions about the delay on the unpublished, long waited for strategy.

Williams fought her corner positively at the start of the session, reiterating her pledge from last year that the strategy will be published by June this year. The cause of the delay has been blamed on the need to ensure the strategy is in-line with the ever changing technology field.

An area that has repeatedly brought criticism to the government body is the image database that is held, totalling a staggering 21million images of faces of identifying body parts. Storing the images is normal practice for police and the government, which can only be removed from the database if requested by the individual.

Home Office grilled over biometrics delay

The Science & Technology Committee posed a set of questions to the Home Office.

The latest biometrics platform operated by the governing body is the use of DNA and fingerprint recognition. This got a much more positive welcome, most likely due to its automatic deletion of data from individuals not charged. However Prince argued that the Custody Image Review implementation was enough, saying that technically it is not possible to set up an automatic deletion system.

“There’s no mechanism at the moment to automatically connect the non-conviction to the custody image to prompt the police to make that removal,” said Prince.

The discussion brought some confusion to members of the committee, understandably asking why the DNA system can automatically delete data but the same can’t be done for images. Giving a rocky response, Williams said: “They are two different systems. They have grown up in different ways and within the technology there is no automatic deletion mechanism.” Prince backed the Head up, stating the DNA platform was “Significantly more advanced” in comparison to facial.

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As the meeting went on witnesses were called upon to give their opinion on the matter, however, no conclusive positive answer was found.

In order to build the biometrics platform efficiently, Williams suggested the public engage more with the government for what they want to see. Concluding the event there was no settled date to when it would be launched; therefore still expect the strategy to be launched by Spring this year.