Police need biometric technology regulation

Biometric technology is readily available and of great value to the police, but they need to be accountable and transparent for the public to be on their side when it comes to using it.

That's the view of Ian Readhead, director of information for the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO).

Concerned with how the community perceives the police, Readhead said he was keen to see independent regulation and scrutiny about the way police were conducting themselves, so that new technology was used in a balanced way and properly governed.

The police are already rolling out mobile biometric scanners nationwide to read fingerprints.

Readhead also said there was a "huge" debate to be had about other such abilities, such as collecting DNA as a biometric identifier.

He said it would present the government with a difficult dilemma: "We've given the police a power to take DNA from individuals if they commit and record an offence," he said.

"The important word is commit - they aren't charged or convicted. We've got four and half million records now, and many of those people have never been found guilty of any offence."

Readhead said it was important to ask - and have answered - the question of how long the police had a right to retain samples, and whether such samples should indeed be destroyed.

He went on to say that the House of Lords had no problem with keeping samples, but in Europe "22 judges" had a major problem with it.

Toby Stevens, director of the Enterprise Privacy Group, was in agreement and said that the UK was very concerned about privacy.

He said there were some "fantastic" biometric technologies available, but was concerned that they were being used in the wrong way.

Stevens said that technology was being used to identify people from a crowd rather than asking people if they could produce a credential - two very different applications.

"I would be hugely welcoming of being able to use a fingerprint in a shop to buy myself something with a credit card. That's no problem at all," he said.

"What I would be very worried about would be walking into a shop, with a camera taking a photo of my face and saying we are 99.86 per cent sure that you're linked to this bank account."

Stevens said there needed to be a far greater debate over the use of biometric technology for identification as opposed to authentication.

Click here to read about the potential uses of biometric technology in the workplace.