Home Office use of large datasets to come under Ethics review

Work of Biometrics and Forensics Ethics Group expanded – will now provide independent review of data and how it’s being used by the Department

Posted 13 February 2019 by Gary Flood

The remit of non-departmental government body the Biometrics and Forensics Ethics Group (BFEG) will now be asked to consider ethical issues relating to large and complex data sets.

The news was released by the government yesterday, with the official announcement also adding that the group will provide independent oversight of the Data Ethics Governance Framework, which was established to “ensure balanced consideration of the use of data within the Home Office”.

The Biometrics and Forensics Ethics Group provides independent ethical advice to Home Office ministers on issues related to the use of biometrics and forensics, and is sponsored by the Home Office.

It was set up to look at the ethical impact on society, groups and individuals of the capture, retention and use of human samples and biometric identifiers for purposes which fall within the purview of the Home Office, including the differentiation between, or identification of, individuals. Members are drawn from a range of backgrounds, from Philosophy to the Law, Psychiatry and Occupational Health.

“With ever increasing volumes of data and the implementation of new data protection legislation it’s more appropriate than ever to expand the BFEG remit to consider large and complex data sets,” said the group’s chair, lawyer and biologist Chris Hughes OBE.

“The expansion will build on the committee’s existing work and will work to ensure that the use of an individual’s personal data is legitimate and proportionate, contributing to justified trust in the Home Office.”

The BFEG will continue to consider the ethical aspects of:

  • the application and operation of technologies which produce biometric and forensic data and identifiers;
  • ethical issues relating to scientific services provided to the police service and other public bodies within the criminal justice system;
  • applications for research involving access to biometric or forensic data; and
  • matters relating to the management, operation and use of biometric or forensic data.