Following a high-profile human rights complaint, the Police Service of Northern Ireland has committed to establishing and publishing a formal policy concerning its retention of biometric data from criminals.
The case was brought forward by the country’s Human Rights Commission in support of a claim from an anonymous individual whose fingerprint and DNA data were kept by the PSNI after an arrest in December of 2017 that resulted in his being released without charges. Police retained the biometric data as the individual had a previous criminal conviction stemming from 2009.
The individual had asked the PSNI to erase his biometric data, but the police service refused. When the Human Rights Commission took up his case, its representatives came to the conclusion that trying to determine whether police have retained one’s biometric data, and why, was “unnecessarily difficult”.
The Commission and the PSNI have now settled on an agreement in which the biometric data of the individual in question will be deleted, and the PSNI will issue a formal policy within a year.
The issue helps to illustrate an ongoing tension between privacy and civil rights and the increasing use of biometric identification by police authorities. It also demonstrates how civil society organizations can work to resolve some of these tensions, Northern Ireland’s Human Rights Commission echoing the role of the Biometrics Commissioner in the UK, who used his position last year to call for greater transparency from the Home Office concerning its own biometrics policies.