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PCC renews concerns over national police database of millions of facial images

15th September 2017

Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner, Dame Vera Baird QC, has spoken out once again about the unlawful storage of millions of innocent people’s images, as part of a national police facial recognition database.

The Commissioner, who has previously raised these concerns on the BBC’s Newsnight, is calling for the Government to review the matter following fresh concerns raised today by an official watchdog.

Paul Wiles, the biometrics commissioner, says in his annual report that the police’s use of facial images has gone far beyond their original use for custody purposes.  He says forces are using facial recognition software to try to identify individuals in public places.

The Home Office said police should delete images of unconvicted people if asked to do so.

Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner, Dame Vera Baird QC, said: “Of course, facial recognition has its place in modern policing and can be put to excellent use but the way the system works is that it risks targeting innocent people who should be eliminated from the system. Their image should be immediately deleted.

“Surely the onus should not be on unconvicted people to ask the police for their images to be deleted? This is immoral and needs a careful re-think – legislation needs to keep up with digital advancements not breach our human rights.”

She added: “This is about ensuring people have confidence in policing and how forces across England and Wales manage our information.”

The Police National Database (PND) contains custody images, taken at police stations after someone is arrested.

Of these, more than 16 million have been enrolled in a searchable gallery using facial recognition software. This includes pictures of individuals who are released without charge or later cleared.

Paul Wiles, whose job is to scrutinise how police and other authorities retain information including DNA samples, profiles and fingerprints, has said that new biometrics – such as voice and facial recognition – can be “equally useful” to the police as DNA and fingerprinting, adding that the police “are quite right to be experimenting with this” but warned wrongful allegations could occur from the “very rapid growth” of the database.

He added: “The use of facial images by the police has gone far beyond using them for custody purposes.”