Editorial

Security and privacy concerns being raised over Home Office’s biometrics work

‘The Register’ reports on independent ethical advice group’s concerns about the £842m programme, set to store millions of people’s “highly sensitive biometric data”

Posted 6 November 2019 by

Independent IT news analysis site The Register is running a story that claims the ethics body the Government asked to look at a major national biometrics project has raised some big red flags.

In ‘Concerns raised over privacy and security of UK Home Office’s £842m biometrics programme,’ the site details a response it had from the Biometrics and Forensics Ethics Group (BFEG) after the journalists contacted it to see why its first report, dated 2017, was only published on Monday.

The reason for that turned out to be an expansion of the group’s remit and staff turnover. But the real story turned out to be what’s in the report: how the working group has identified a number of potential issues resulting from the programme, an £842m project set to store millions of people’s highly sensitive biometric data and which is due to go live in 2020.

These include:

  • the complexity and risk associated with the transfer of data from one system to another
  • the protection of the public when data was transferred
  • whether the combination of datasets would result in individuals gaining greater access to data than was originally intended
  • the sensitivity of both data and metadata
  • ensuring that checks were not skipped, despite tight deadlines.

The group also wants the public to be “better informed” of the boundaries of the Metropolitan Police Service’s facial recognition trials project and its future uses.

The group says the Met should also be “explicit, open and proactive in stating that it was not be used to gather intelligence covertly or to generate a soft watch list using social media”.

Last month, the Home Office announced a ten-year, £300m contract with US tech firm Leidos to start work on the the Home Office Biometrics (HOB) Programme’s Strategic Central and Bureau Platforms project.

This aims to cement Home Office strategy to digitally transform the Government’s biometrics systems through “increased performance, capability, security and resilience to create a world leading biometrics capability across government”.

Go here to read the report in full, and here for the news story itself.