UK’s Biometrics Commissioner Calls for More Transparency from Home Office

The UK’s Biometrics Commissioner is not satisfied with the recently published Home Office Biometrics Strategy.

UK's Biometrics Commissioner Calls for More Transparency from Home OfficeIn a formal response to the Strategy, which was issued last week, Biometrics Commissioner Paul Wiles bemoaned the document’s lack of detail about where the UK government’s use of biometric technology is headed, asserting that it “says little about what future plans the Home Office has for the use of biometrics and the sharing of biometric data.” In particular, Wiles takes issue with the fact that the Strategy “does not propose legislation to provide rules for the use and oversight of new biometrics, including facial images.”

The Home Office Biometrics Strategy – and Wiles’ response – come at a time of heightened interest in the government’s use of biometrics, particularly in surveillance and policing. Just last month, for example, privacy advocates called on the Home Office to either stop using facial recognition surveillance in public, or to explain how their use of the technology complies with the European Convention of Human Rights; meanwhile, in the US, consumers, shareholders, and Amazon employees have publicly called on that company to stop selling facial recognition technology to the government and police agencies, drawing international attention to the issue.

For his part, Biometrics Commissioner Wiles is not opposed to the government’s use of this technology in principle, acknowledging in his statement that it “may well be in the public interest for law enforcement purposes and to support other government functions.” But he wants more transparency, and he wants the UK’s parliament to establish some kind of regulatory framework for how this technology is used. Noting that the Home Office Biometrics Strategy had called for an advisory board with what he describes as a limited scope, Wiles concludes his response by urging the government agency to “re-consider and clearly extend the advisory board’s remit to properly consider all future biometrics and will name the board accordingly.”

July 5, 2018 – by Alex Perala