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Oscar Williams

News editor

The Home Office’s biometrics strategy finally has a publication date – four years after it was due

The Home Office’s biometrics strategy will be published in June, four and a half years after it was promised, MPs were told this morning.

Baroness Susan Williams, minister of state for the Home Office, apologised to the science and technology select committee for the continuing delay.

“I can only apologise that you do not have the biometrics strategy,” she said. “I hope to be able to bring it to you in June.”

The government promised to deliver a framework for the application of forensics and biometrics, such as the use of facial recognition software in policing by the end of 2013. But after years of delays, it published a forensics strategy in 2016 without the biometrics component.

Williams told the committee that she had decided to refine the scope of the biometrics strategy: “A government-wide strategy did not fit the bill because different departments use biometrics for different purposes.”

Biometrics commissioner Paul Wiley noted in his annual report last year that thousands of people are at risk of being unfairly targeted by the police because their images are stored in a vast facial recognition database.

The National Police Database now contains more than 21 million custody images, hundreds of thousands of which belong to people who were later acquitted or never charged with a crime, according to Wiles.

The retention of innocent people’s facial images was deemed unlawful by a court more than five years ago, but a Home Office review published last year said police should delete images only if the subject asks them to do so.

Wiles said it remained to be seen how many people would take up the opportunity. “The evidence from a similar application process to the police, to delete [Police National Computer] and biometric records, is not encouraging,” he wrote.

Williams said she would write to the committee to clarify how many people had applied for their images to be removed from the database, and how many applications had been approved.